Healthy eating and weight management for arthritis

Good nutrition and weight management are important parts of leading a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity, your diet can help you manage your arthritis and improve your overall health.

Related: Mary Pack Arthritis Program

Benefits of healthy eating

  • Increased energy throughout the day
  • If overweight, even a 5 – 10% weight loss can help reduce joint pain & inflammation  and improve your body’s ability to move and allow medications to work better.
  • Reduce risk of other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and thinning of bones.

Develop healthy eating habits

Changing your eating habits may seem overwhelming. But taking just a few small steps can result in significant changes. Some small changes include:

  • Plan your meals ahead of time, use a grocery list and shop for meals.
  • Shop the outer areas of the grocery store and read labels to make better choices.
  • Make small changes by trying new foods.
  • Eat smaller food portions to maintain a healthy weight & waist measurement.
  • Choose a variety of foods at each meal from each group of Canada’s Food Guide to ensure an adequate intake of nutrients.
  • Choose whole foods instead of processed foods. Include more raw vegetables and fruits, whole grains such brown rice, quinoa, barley, oatmeal, and whole grain breads.
  • Eat more dark green, red and orange vegetables and fruits.
  • Include more plant-based meals in your week.
  • Eat a little high-quality protein such as lean meat, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds or legumes at every meal.
  • Choose healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, olive/coconut oils and fish, while decreasing saturated animal fats and avoiding trans fats (hydrogenated fats )
  • Boost calcium, vitamin D3, vitamin K2 and magnesium intake to build strong bones.
  • Drink fluids such as water to prevent dehydration. Limit juices & soft drinks.
  • Limit sodium and choose sea salt over table salt.
  • Avoid eating genetically modified foods (such as corn, soy & canola oil) & foods grown with high amounts of pesticides.
  • Choose local or organic foods when possible.
  • When your hands hurt, use cut-up fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, or prepared meals delivered from the local grocery store or agencies such as ‘Better Meals’ or ‘Meals on Wheels.’
  • Speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian if any dietary supplements are needed.


Getting active

Becoming or staying physically active is a key part of managing your arthritis. However, the pain, stiffness and fatigue common to many forms of arthritis make regular physical activity a challenge. With proper advice and support from your health professional team, you can find a physical activity plan that works for you.

Benefits of getting active

Regular physical activity can help in many ways including:

  • Less pain and stiffness
  • Better flexibility
  • Better muscle strength
  • Easier day-to-day function, such as going up and down stairs, and running errands
  • Improved sleep and more energy
  • Weight management
  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Lower risk of developing other health problems like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis (poor bone health)

What is physical activity?

Physical activity is any movement that works your muscles and uses more energy than you use when you are resting.

You may be active when working or volunteering, getting to and from places, doing house and yard work, and enjoying leisure activities. you engage in paid and unpaid work, study and leisure activities. Walking, swimming, yoga, golf, gardening and housework are all examples of physical activity.

Research also shows that reducing the amount of time you spend being sedentary (e.g., sitting, watching TV) throughout the day can also have important health benefits. Try standing and moving about for a few minutes every waking hour.

What is exercise?

Exercise is planned and structured physical activity.

Taking a fitness class or playing on a sports team are examples of exercise. The best forms of exercise are those that can be done safely in a safe manner, have little risk of injury, place little stress on joints affected by arthritis, and are fun.

What is therapeutic exercise?

Health professionals prescribe therapeutic exercise to help specific joints or body parts and address activity limitations due to arthritis. You may benefit from a therapeutic exercise program if you:

  • Have been inactive for more than six months
  • Have restricted joint motion or muscle strength
  • Have joint pain or swelling
  • Have poor balance or had a recent fall
  • Are recovering from surgery such as a joint replacement

How much physical activity do I need?

Canadian 24 hour Movement Guidelines suggest adults and older adults do 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or exercise a week. Even short bouts of activity, spread throughout the day, are helpful in periods of 10 minutes or more. Spread the activity throughout the day if you have a busy schedule.

It is also helpful to add muscle and bone-strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least two days per week. If you have any questions about becoming more active, please talk to your doctor, physiotherapist or other member of your health professional team.