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Carrying extra weight is detrimental for patients with arthritis for a variety of reasons. This article outlines why patients with arthritis that overweight or obese should lose weight.

Arthritis is a condition characterized by joint inflammation that is associated with significant joint pain and stiffness. While there are different treatments for arthritis, such as medication, physical therapy and surgery, patients often find that lifestyle changes also make a difference in their disease activity. One of the lifestyle changes that have been shown to benefit patients with arthritis is losing weight.

If you are overweight or obese, that can worsen your arthritis for various reasons. Firstly, having extra weight adds extra stress to your joints, which leads to significant pain and discomfort. Secondly, fat tissue produces a number of pro-inflammatory molecules that work to increase joint inflammation. Therefore, being obese or overweight can significantly worsen your disease activity if you have arthritis.

These are seven reasons why you should lose weight if you have arthritis.

1. Losing weight can decrease your pain levels

Since having extra weight puts extra pressure on your joints, losing weight can reduce stress and improve your arthritic symptoms. One study reported that adults with osteoarthritis (a common subtype of arthritis) who lost weight over a period of 18 months through a combination of diet and exercise had less pain in their knee. In fact, one study found that losing just 10 percent of body weight made a significant difference.

2. Weight loss can lead to improved joint function

Weight loss has also been shown to improve joint function. Results indicate that mechanical pressure in the knee joint was reduced when patients lost weight, thus improving joint function. In fact, one study showed that when patients lost weight through exercise and diet, their knee function improved significantly. Thus, doctors emphasize the need to reduce calories and fat consumption if you have arthritis and are either overweight or obese.

The best way to lose weight is slowly — aim to drop one pound a week and you should be able to see big changes within six months. However, it is important that you continue your diet and exercise regimen even after you lose weight for the best results.

3. You will feel better if you lose weight

When patients lose weight through a combination of diet and exercise, they report that they experience a better quality of life physically and are able to do things that they had trouble with in the past (hiking, exercise, etc.). This improved physical ability goes beyond just experiencing less pain in the joints.

Doctors recommend that you do aerobics or weight training one hour at a time and three times a week. However, you can also spread the same amount of physical activity out throughout the week. One way to encourage yourself to exercise is to partner with a fitness trainer or join a group. There are trainers and groups that specialize in working with arthritis patients.

4. Losing weight can reduce inflammation

Studies have shown that overweight people with arthritis tend to have increased levels of inflammatory markers throughout their body. These are chemical markers, such as IL-6, that indicate that your body is experiencing inflammation at levels that are higher than normal. One study showed that after patients went through an 18 month study in which they lost weight through exercise and diet, they had reduced levels of IL-6 in their body.

Thus, losing weight helps reduce inflammation, which is evidenced by a reduction in inflammatory markers. Another way to lose weight and reduce inflammation in the bod is by decreasing your intake of inflammation-promoting omega-6 fatty acids (which are found in red meat) and increase intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (which are found in fatty fish, olive oil, and walnuts, among other foods).

5. Weight loss leads to healthier sleep patterns

Patients with arthritis who experience significant pain report disturbed sleep as the pain keeps them up at night. If this pattern continues for long enough, it can lead to insomnia. However, one way to counteract insomnia is to lose weight, which, in turn, can lead to better sleep. Once patients are a part of a healthy exercise program, their sleep patterns improve.

6. Lose weight for improved heart health

It is well-known that losing weight and boosting your physical fitness helps improve heart health. However, what is less well-known is that there is a link between arthritis, weight, and heart disease. For example, one study found that patients who had painful hand osteoarthritis were more likely to have a heart attack. Thus, since a subset of arthritis patients have a higher risk of heart disease, losing weight helps reduce that risk.

7. Losing weight can save you money

Arthritis can be an expensive disease to treat. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the cost of arthritis reaches at least $128 billion a year. Weight loss leads to improved joint function as well as less pain. Therefore, losing weight can help save money when it comes to the treatment of this costly disease.

  • Messier, Stephen P., et al. "Exercise and dietary weight loss in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis: the Arthritis, Diet, and Activity Promotion Trial." Arthritis & Rheumatism 50.5 (2004): 1501-1510.
  • Fontaine, Kevin R., Steffany Haaz, and Susan J. Bartlett. "Are overweight and obese adults with arthritis being advised to lose weight?." JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology 13.1 (2007): 12-15.
  • Mehrotra, Chetna, et al. "Arthritis, body mass index, and professional advice to lose weight: implications for clinical medicine and public health." American journal of preventive medicine 27.1 (2004): 16-21.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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