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Everydayhealth.com: By Taylor Kubota
Trying to stay healthy with psoriatic arthritis can sometimes feel like a catch-22: While exercising regularly is
important in reducing stiffness, a tough workout can lead to pain and swelling and possibly bring on a flare-up. “All you
have to do is experience the pain of having overdone it once, and you start being afraid to try things,” says Lisa
Schmidt-Bayautet, 51, the former owner of a marketing firm in Vancouver, Washington, who was diagnosed
with psoriatic arthritis last year.
The key is to not let this trepidation take over, says Daniel Arkfeld, MD, an associate professor of clinical medicine at
the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, in Los Angeles. “It happens all too often among
people with psoriatic arthritis,” he says. “They get stiff and they stop working out, and then they get stiffer.”
The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance recommends that you exercise daily if you have psoriatic arthritis,
making sure to move affected joints through the widest range of motion possible. But if working out at a gym is too
daunting — or just boring — there are many other creative ways to stay active and reap the consequent physical and
mental benefits. Start with one of these:
1. Make your home a workout zone.
Gyms offer variety, but visible psoriasis can make going to one intimidating for some people. Schmidt-Bayautet has
solved this obstacle by creating an activity-friendly environment in her home. One of her favorite touches is a
resistance band that she always leaves draped over a chair. She uses it for quick stretch sessions performed at her
own pace and convenience. On good days, she also does stepping reps up and down her stairs.
2. Tape up and go for a walk.
Walking is a low-impact exercise that can strengthen muscles and nourish joints. An added benefit is that sun
exposure can help improve the appearance of psoriasis, the skin condition that often accompanies psoriatic arthritis.
A few simple aids can assist you: The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) recommends the use of shoe inserts,
pads, or heel cups to quell the pain of arthritis and heel spurs. Athletic tape, which is wrapped directly around joints
and tendons, might also help. “If you have inflamed tendons, taping around them might take some stress off the
tendon or the joint,” says John Fitzgerald, MD, the interim chief of the Division of Rheumatology at the University of
California at Los Angeles. A physical therapist can show you the taping methods that may work best for you.
Volunteering can do much good for you and others. According to an analysis of studies published in BMC Public
Health, a journal of the British scientific publisher BioMed Central, in August 2013, volunteering can lessen depression
and improve life satisfaction and overall well-being. Schmidt-Bayautet volunteers with the NPF and has reaped
satisfying rewards. “Being there and focusing on others is a very positive thing,” she says, “and the social aspect
helps.” Schmidt-Bayautet is cautious, however, in having realistic expectations for how much work she can do and
what type. She has found that tasks involving repetitive motions, like stuffing envelopes, are best left to others.
4. Go for a swim.
Cardio workouts can help you maintain a healthy weight — an important consideration for those with psoriatic arthritis.
“Carrying extra weight is one of the worst things someone with arthritis can do,” says Dr. Fitzgerald, “because it puts
more stress on the joints.” Swimming offers a one-two exercise punch: muscle building and heart revving, both of
which help you burn calories. If you were a swimmer before you developed psoriatic arthritis, however, don’t go full
steam into your previous workout routine — start off gradually, and build endurance carefully. It’s also best to work out
in a warm pool because cold water can make muscles contract, triggering pain.
5. Stretch in the shower.
Even if you can’t immerse yourself in a warm pool, a toasty shower can help relax your muscles and relieve pain,
swelling, and joint soreness. Soaking in warm water can also help you unwind mentally. Schmidt-Bayautet says she
takes advantage of the feel-good power of a warm shower by doing gentle stretches while she washes. Stretching can
reduce stiffness and help you maintain a joint's range of motion. People with psoriatic arthritis should aim to stretch at
least five times a week, but preferably every day. And given that most of us shower with some regularity, this can be
a handy way to fit stretches into the day. Just make sure to equip your shower with a non-slip mat or grips.
6. Discover your inner chef.
Experimenting with new recipes allows you to feel more in control of your condition while adding more movement to
your day. Because psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory disease, many people find that following an anti-inflammatory
diet reduces the intensity of their symptoms. The NPF recommends avoiding foods that have been shown to increase
inflammation — including fatty red meats, dairy, processed foods, refined sugars, and nightshade vegetables, such as
potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. You can also try adding more inflammation-reducing foods to your diet — such as
cold-water fish, nuts, olive oil, and colorful fresh fruits and vegetables.
Although research hasn’t firmly established that anti-inflammatory diets have a significant effect on inflammation,
Fitzgerald says such diets are generally healthy and, therefore, at least worth trying.
7. Spend time with other people who have psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis affects people in different ways, so if you spend time with other people with the condition, you can
learn about a variety of ways to cope with the physical and emotional challenges.
A 2012 study from the University of Toronto found that people who either live with inflammatory arthritis or know
someone with the condition believe that peer support programs can help bridge the gap between what patients need
and what health care providers offer. People with arthritis said that peers shared practical information and provided the
opportunity for one another to build self-esteem and calm post-diagnosis worries.
But psoriatic arthritis is often lumped together with rheumatoid arthritis, according to Dr. Arkfeld, so finding support
and advice can sometimes be a challenge. Schmidt-Bayautet has been able to create her own psoriatic arthritis
support network through her volunteer work with the NPF. Her circle talks and texts at all hours, asking questions,
offering information, and socializing. “I would say that those fabulous friends, psoriatic friends, are life to me,” she
says. Having a community that's specifically related to psoriatic arthritis also means that Schmidt-Bayautet has
friends who understand if she can’t keep plans because of a rough day or a flare-up.
How to Find the Best Activities for You
Be wary of one-size-fits-all solutions: Psoriatic arthritis can vary quite a bit from person to person, so
pursue exercise that appeals to you and listen to your body to find what works best. Keeping a log of daily activities
and symptoms can help you discover the activities that are right for you. Schmidt-Bayautet also recommends using
notes for encouragement: A simple reminder to walk to the mailbox makes it more likely that the task will get done.
No matter what activities you choose to help you deal with the physical and emotional symptoms of psoriatic arthritis,
it's important to start with a solid foundation in managing your illness. “A big goal,” says Arkfeld, “is to control the
disease so you can maintain the activities.”
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