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New Habits for the New Year: How to Stick to a Healthy Routine

20th January 2022

It’s that time of the year. Let’s face it; we all dread writing down 50 unrealistic New Year’s Resolutions only to end up committing to 5. However, making habits is the key to cultivating a healthy routine, especially if you are a knee osteoarthritis patient. A healthy lifestyle practiced regularly has been proven numerous times to help manage pain, improve range of motion, and delay the need for knee surgery.

So, what does a healthy lifestyle entail? Let’s recap the lifestyle choices from diet to exercise and discuss how to integrate them into your new year.

Diet

Being overweight creates extra pressure for your knee joints, which can worsen your knee OA and pain. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of new fad diets promising rapid weight loss in ‘just 3 weeks’’.

Many of these diets lack scientific evidence and can lead to malnutrition, an aggravator of knee OA, as you aren’t getting the appropriate nutrition. It is also important to be aware of which diets could help some people but would not be beneficial is you suffer OA of the knee.

That’s why you should always seek advice from a qualified dietician or general practitioner to establish a dietary routine tailored to your needs.

A healthy diet for knee OA must:

  • Contain antioxidants to reduce/prevent inflammation
  • Help maintain a healthy weight
  • Strengthen the bones and muscles around the knee
  • Reduce cholesterol

Here is a list of actions that can help accomplish at least one of the above

  • Increase omega-3 intake through oily fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, sardine)
  • Consume low-fat dairy products for vitamin D and calcium to strengthen bones and muscles
  • Add/diversify fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants and vitamins (B, C, K)
    • Spinach
    • Kale
    • Broccoli
    • Apples
    • Strawberry
    • Citrus
    • Dark berries
    • Cabbage
  • Cook with olive oil.
    • Olive oil contains the anti-inflammatory compound oleocanthal, proven as effective as ibuprofen in reducing inflammation [1].
  • Drink plenty of green tea:

We have previously mentioned on our blog the best foods for osteoarthritis and how exactly they help reduce symptoms.

Of course, to make new healthy habits, you need to break unhealthy habits. Here are some foods you need to remove from your shopping list:

  • Processed food and drinks with added sugar could trigger inflammation by releasing inflammatory cytokines in the body.
  • Foods containing saturated fat or trans-fat could cause unhealthy fat accumulation, weight gain, and inflammation.
  • Red meat, especially when cooked in high temperatures, can produce glycation end products (AGEs) that induce inflammation significantly.

Exercise

The health benefits of exercise are countless. In the context of knee OA, exercise helps you to regain control of your knee movement despite the pain and the constraints in your range of motion. That said, you need to be clever in how you go about exercising. Low-impact is the keyword. The aim is to increase muscle strength and flexibility while exerting minimum pressure on the knee joint.

Here are some tips to give you a head start with your routine.

  • Go for a walk. It is not only soothing for the soul but also helpful for building strength and resilience in the bone.
  • If you want to sign up for a gym, make sure it has a swimming pool that caters to knee OA patients. Whether swimming or walking in the pool, your legs will get a great workout with very little stress on the knee, thanks to the buoyant forces in the water that make you float.
  • Another low-impact option is cycling, which you can either do with a regular bike or a stationary gym bike.
  • Become close friends with gym equipment, such as ellipticals and rowing machines that offer full-body workout opportunities with minimum knee load.
  • If you haven’t got one, invest in a suitable pair of walking shoes for proper support throughout the leg.

While the above exercises can help manage knee OA by improving blood circulation, it is also necessary to strengthen and stretch leg muscles. Whether at a gym, your office, or from the comfort of your house, you can incorporate some stretching exercises into your routine:

  • Squat
  • Quad stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Calf stretch
  • Leg slide
  • Side leg raise

We will get into the details of leg exercises in future posts. You could also support your legs through yoga by trying low-impact yoga poses.

The key is to pay attention to your pain threshold. Start with low weights/small sets and gradually increase the number of repetitions. You might experience mild muscle soreness after the exercises. If your pain worsens and becomes chronic, it means that either your posture is wrong or the exercise itself is not suitable for the knee joint. Your practitioner can assist you with the optimum type of exercise by evaluating your specific symptoms and knee condition.

Sleep Routine

A healthy sleep routine is essential for managing your joint pain and revitalizing your body. After all, your leg muscles need a good night’s rest to develop. The problem is, sleep disturbances are quite common amongst knee OA patients.

However, you can still cultivate a healthy sleep routine to increase the chances of uninterrupted deep sleep. Here is what it looks like:

First and foremost, you need to make sure that your circadian rhythm is in line with the needs of your muscles. You can achieve that through light exposure.

  • When you wake up, spend 5-10 minutes outside. Research suggests that getting sunlight exposure early in the morning makes you more energetic in the early part of the day [2].
  • In the late afternoon, try to view sunlight for another 5-10 minutes. That way, your body gets the message that bedtime is approaching.
  • By the same logic, your bedroom should be as dark as possible. Research suggests that having bright lights overhead between 10 pm - 4 am disrupts the release of melatonin responsible for inducing sleep. Such exposure can disrupt sleep phases, especially the REM phase [3]. That’s why you should keep only the artificial light in your room as dim and low (not overhead) as possible.
  • You should also restrict electronics and minimise their brightness if you need to use them.
Unhealthy Sleep Routine

Your last large meal of the day can also impact your sleep quality.

  • Eating large meals before bed is never a good idea. So, make sure to have your last meal at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.
  • You should avoid fatty and spicy foods that might cause heartburn, acid reflux, and digestion problems.
  • Craving late-night snacks? Luckily, there are several healthy and tasty options. They either contain the sleep-inducing melatonin or tryptophan, which is its precursor. A healthy midnight snack could include:
    • Walnuts, almonds
    • Cherry
    • Banana
    • Oats
    • Low-fat yoghurt
  • You should avoid caffeine intake in the latter half of the day to prevent sleep deprivation. Instead, you can opt for sleep-promoting drinks, such as chamomile tea, tart cherry juice, or warm milk.

Breathing Habits vs. Stress

Did you know that the way you breathe has tremendous effects on your stress levels?

Most of us are used to shallow mouth breathing and not aware of its negative effects. There is substantial evidence that mouth breathing deprives the body of sufficient oxygen, increases anxiety and the possibility of sleep apnea [4]. As you can imagine, this type of breathing is not exactly beneficial for managing your knee OA.

On the other hand, healthy nasal breathing has been shown to improve blood circulation, reduce anxiety, and shift the individual into a calmer state [5]. Healthy breathing involves inhalation through the nose, engagement of the diaphragm, and slow exhalation. While you can incorporate nasal breathing into your entire day, you can also try more structured breathing exercises as a part of a yoga-meditation routine. The following breath techniques commonly appear in yoga practices:

  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Ocean breath
  • Box breathing
  • Lion’s breath
  • Crocodile’s breath



[1] Lucas, Lisa et al. “Molecular mechanisms of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory benefits of virgin olive oil and the phenolic compound oleocanthal.” Current pharmaceutical design vol. 17,8 (2011): 754-68. doi:10.2174/138161211795428911

[2] Pauley, Stephen M. "Lighting for the human circadian clock: recent research indicates that lighting has become a public health issue." Medical hypotheses 63.4 (2004): 588-596.

[3] Cho, Jounhong Ryan, et al. "Let there be no light: the effect of bedside light on sleep quality and background electroencephalographic rhythms." Sleep medicine 14.12 (2013): 1422-1425.

[4] McKeown, P., and M. Macaluso. "Mouth Breathing: Physical, Mental and Emotional Consequences." Oral Health Group. http://www. oralhealthgroup. com/features/mouth–breathing–physical–mental–emotional–consequences (2017).

[5] Bartley, Jim. "Nasal influences on breathing." Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders (2014): 45-50.

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