Does weight affect arthritis?
The simple answer is yes. Extra body weight increases the stress on many joints, particularly the knees, hips and lower back. There is also a clear link between being overweight and an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. If you are overweight, losing weight will decrease the stress on your joints, which in turn, can reduce pain and make it easier for you to move around.
If you have a lot to lose, or perhaps only a little, keeping your weight in check has numerous benefits when you have arthritis. To learn more about the benefits of being a healthy weight and to get practical weight loss tips – read on.
Benefits of Weight Loss with Arthritis
We know that weight loss is beneficial for overall health, but what are the specific benefits for arthritis?
Reduces pressure on your joints and improves joint function
It is estimated that for every kilo of excess weight we carry, an extra load of 4kgs is put on our knee joints. Add an incline, and the pressure is even greater: the force on each knee is two to three times your body weight when you go up and down stairs, and four to five times your body weight when you squat to tie a shoelace or pick up an item you dropped.
It is also encouraging to know that modest weight loss (e.g. 5% of your total body weight) can translate to rather significant reductions in pain and improvements in functionality.
Eases pain and inflammation
Fat is an active tissue that creates and releases pro-inflammatory chemicals that has an effect on joint tissue and pain. Research has shown us that a 5% to 10% reduction of body weight can dramatically reduce joint pain and improve exercise tolerance.
Joint surgery benefits
If you require joint replacement surgery, weight loss prior to proceeding with a joint replacement can offer significant benefits. Reducing weight prior to joint replacement surgery can lower your risk of surgical complications including infection. In addition, by strengthening and losing weight, your rehabilitation is going to be easier on the rest of your body. Reducing body weight prior to entering a rehabilitation plan can help surgery outcomes significantly.
Cuts risk of chronic diseases – such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke
Research also shows that people with some form of arthritis are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, making the need to control weight all the more critical. Studies have shown that losing weight can lower your blood pressure into a healthy range. In addition, eating right and engaging in physical activity that leads to weight loss can also lower your cholesterol.
Saves you money in the long run
Arthritis can be an expensive condition. Improving your weight can help to curb potential medical costs in the future due to worsening of your arthritis and the chance of developing other chronic conditions.
Weight Loss Tips
Here are a few simple tips to be mindful of to get you started on your weight loss journey.
Take a look at what you are eating
Often it’s what we are eating rather than the quantities. Steer away from processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat and aim to eat more fresh food – such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, nuts etc. Nutritious food will help you feel fuller for longer and stave off fat and sugar cravings. For more tips read Anti-Inflammatory Diet – made easy here.
You could start by serving yourself smaller portion sizes, perhaps by reducing the amount slowly so it’s not as noticeable or difficult. Serve your plate and eat no more – if there’s bowls of extra food sitting on the table, having seconds are too tempting! A great guide for what could go on your plate:
*50% fruit & vegetables (with more veggies than fruit)
*25% healthy protein (such as fish, chicken, eggs or lean meat- not processed meat)
*25% whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat couscous/pasta, bulgur, barley, freekah)
Of course it’s obvious that exercise helps to burn more calories, but it is also good for your overall health and joint strength. Talk to your doctor about exercise that is tailored to your condition.
ANSW has developed an exercise series, the Get Moving! Exercise Series. It includes 4 levels (starting from beginner) exercise videos and instruction booklets. Visit the series here.
Arthritis NSW also offers Exercise Programs developed for people with arthritis, for more info visit here.
Buddy – up
Find a friend (or two!) and start the journey together, you are so much more motivated if you have support and can keep each other on track.
It’s not a race
Weight loss does not need to be a race and small steps and targets will still see you reach your goal. Make a start and if it takes 6 to 12 months or longer that is reasonable, what’s important is that you are moving in the right direction! It’s about instilling a new routine or behaviour into your lifestyle, new behaviours usually take around 2 months to become automatic.
You don’t have to do this alone. Your doctor may recommend steps to get you started including seeing a dietitian and perhaps a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist that can help you with a tailored diet plan and exercise program. If you would like to source a health professional yourself located in your area visit:
Find a local Exercise Physiologist
As always, consult your doctor or specialist before beginning any new weight loss or exercise program.
There is no doubt that losing weight can be a difficult task, but the benefits to your arthritis and overall health are most definitely worth the effort. Talk to your doctor and make a start, you’ll certainly feel better for it!
Arthritis NSW – we’re here to help
We’re here to help whenever you need us. We have a variety of options available for support and information.
- For more BLOG articles about managing your arthritis, please visit our News page here.
- Sign up to eNews to get information and advice on managing your condition
- Call our free helpline on 1800 011 041 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
- We are a health charity, help us to deliver our services – donate here
- Join our online community: Follow us on Facebook or Instagram
- Subscribe to our magazine, more info here
- Become a member, more info here
Sources and Further Reading
Anti-Inflammatory Diet – made easy
Losing Weight with Arthritis
Will Weight Loss Improve Arthritis Symptoms