According to the American Academy of Lifestyle Medicine there is “enormous potential for health behavior change to impact mortality, morbidity, and health care costs. Examples of target patient behaviors include, but are not limited to, eliminating tobacco use, improving diet, increasing physical activity, and moderating alcohol consumption.” But will change in these behaviors help people with pain?
A 2013 article by van Hecke in the British Journal of Medicine says yes – lifestyle change is part of treating pain: “There are clear opportunities for all health professionals to facilitate changes in lifestyle that have the potential to improve morbidity and function in patients with chronic pain.”
You do not have to wait to learn about lifestyle change as pain treatment from your medical provider! Here are things you can do now to reduce chronic pain, be more active, and feel better.
- Stop smoking – Smoking causes inflammation in the body. By continuing to smoke cigarettes the benefits that are achieved from treatments may be eliminated
- Eat healthy and avoid inflammatory foods – We are learning more about the effects of foods that we eat. We know that certain foods and additives can cause inflammation in the body, which can make any existing pain worse. Keep foods simple and organic, if possible. Avoid processed foods with multiple, unknown ingredients.
- Exercise – or the lack of – can influence pain levels. Regular exercise -moving in general – helps the body stay flexible and strong. There are some things we know about exercise:
- Endorphins are released with exercise. For most, the release of endorphins improves mood. Improving mood can help people cope with the challenge of dealing with ongoing pain.
- Moving our joints keeps them from getting stiff. Decreasing stiffness can decrease pain.
- Weakened or damaged muscular/joint areas can be supported by healthy, strong muscles that are nearby.
- Improving flexibility in joints and muscles throughout the body allows us to tolerate activities with less pain eventually. Yoga and Pilates are excellent for improving flexibility.
- The development of strong cognitive behavioral skills will help individuals cope with life stressors better. Less stress leads to less pain.
- Weight loss – a high BMI (body mass index) increases work for our bodies. Bodies work more efficiently at normal body weight. There may be less joint pains, and higher activity tolerance with a normal body weight as the load comes off. Also, carrying extra fat increases the amount of inflammation in the body – fat is inflammatory. Fat cells “act like small factories to churn out molecules known as cytokines, which set inflammation in motion,” says Peter Libby, chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School. Reducing body fat to normal reduces inflammation and that can decrease pain.
Read Diana’s Story about how one of our patients realized relief from her Fibromyalgia pain simply by changing her diet.