Arthritis Weight Loss: 5 ways to make it happen and reduce joint pain

arthritis weight loss

Weight loss can be hard. Add arthritis to the mix and now it is even harder! Arthritis weight loss is possible though. It has been shown that reducing weight can help mechanically, meaning less physical pressure through your joints. BUT, losing weight can also reduce the levels of inflammation in your body. This can lead to less joint irritation too! Let’s explore the 5 ways to help make arthritis weight loss possible. 

Benefits of weight loss for arthritis

Many doctors recommend patients to lose weight with arthritis, and with good reason.

The risk of osteoarthritis is greatly increased with weight:  “For every 5kg weight gain, there is a commensurate 36% increased risk for developing OA. In obese individuals, pain is most prevalent in the load-bearing joints including the lower limb and the low back, but can manifest in upper extremity joints, hand and digits, thoracic spine and neck” (Vincent, et al. 2012). 

Weight loss can actually be very powerful in driving osteoarthritis pain relief too. One study found that: 

"Significant pain relief… [was] indicated when weight reduction was more than 15%... of the initial body weight of the individual"

Huang, et al 2000

This same study also mentioned that with a 12% reduction in weight there was a significant increase in functional status for the participants meaning their quality of life and ability to do things was likely greatly improved due to the weight loss

There are many benefits to losing weight with arthritis and is common advice that is given to patients with osteoarthritis.

Problem is…this advice isn’t always accompanied by how to actually do it. That’s what this article is going to help you with! 

1: Prioritize protein

Oftentimes, I find many people are not eating enough protein in their diets, especially women over 50.  Protein is incredibly important for lots of processes in our bodies as well as helping to keep us full. 

For example, protein can help prevent muscle wasting, especially around the joints that take the stress of everyday activities. For example, thigh strength is extremely important when supporting the knee and glute strength is important to support the hip.

But did you know it is also responsible for signaling hunger cues telling us when we are full? Eating protein leads to a longer, more sustained feeling of fullness and can help reduce snacking. 

Protein actually can help reduce joint pain. Yes, you read that right! 

I have a full article here on protein and how it has been compared to the power of anti inflammatory medications when it comes to arthritis pain. You can also check out the video below to learn why protein is an integral part of arthritis weight loss.

2. The right amount of movement

Movement is incredibly effective to impacting lots of different aspects of health including joint pain as well as getting to or maintaining a certain weight. 

With osteoarthritis, the right amount of movement can be more difficult to achieve due to pain and/or stiffness. 

A common misconception is that exercise makes osteoarthritis worse. Exercise is actually vital when looking for osteoarthritis relief. Here is a detailed article about it.

It is possible to find movements your joints like! As a physical therapist who has seen hundreds of people with osteoarthritis, I have found that with the right movements, even patients with bone on bone joints can find movement that doesn’t flare up pain. 

One of the main things I find people are missing in their routine is variety. Too often people are led to believe that walking is the only safe exercise. 

The problem is, walking only works certain muscles as it is primarily performed in one direction: forward. There are muscles that also control sideways and backwards movement. Without moving in those directions, those muscles can get neglected and your joints can miss out on the support. 

I have found when people with osteoarthritis add the right variety to their training, movement doesn’t hurt as much! When movement actually feels good you are more likely to do more of it! 

arthritis weight loss 2
arthritis weight loss

The idea is to include conscious movement at least 30 minutes per day, 3-4 days per week when starting

It is VITAL that you start to add in weight/resistance training to your program if you haven’t already. If you have just been walking – do not stop! Especially if it is something you love.

Try adding in a day of weight training to start, or replace one walking day with a weight training day. You could even choose 1 to 2 exercises per body part and try them every day. Keep building up your strength so that you are able to do 2-4 days of strength training – your joints will thank you.

If you are looking for arthritis friendly workouts, I highly recommend most people start with the free 4 day arthritis friendly workout challenge. You’ll get four days of workouts delivered to your email! 

You can get started right away by filling out the form below. 

3. Focus on food quality

Food quality plays an integral role in arthritis weight loss. 

It’s not so much learning to “avoid” certain food but more of working to include foods that your joints like. 

Food can contribute to inflammation levels in the body which in turn can increase or decrease joint irritation and pain. Learn more about inflammation levels and food here.

Paying more attention to food labels can help to avoid overeating and make sure you are eating quality foods. 

I have an arthritis friendly snack guide here that goes through which ingredients to limit and which can be good for arthritic joints! 

When it comes to arthritis weight loss, it is important to not look just at the calories but what is actually in the foods.

Here are some tips below to look at when you are trying to lose weight from Susan Niebergall who is a fitness trainer and has hip osteoarthritis herself: 

4. Keep it simple

Simplicity can go a long way with arthritis weight loss.

There are many things you can change that can help move the needle with weight loss. It is important to know that everyone is dealing with different factors that could complicate the process. 

For example, menopause, other health conditions, high levels of pain, thyroid conditions, physical limitations, and mental health are just a few that could impact your ability to lose weight.

It can be hard not to compare yourself to others who are posting their success online or people you see in the community. 

Remember, this is your journey.

Trying to change many different things at once not only is unsustainable but can be incredibly overwhelming. 

Usually, the most successful way to approach weight loss is making 1-2 changes at a time. Here are some examples you could start with

  1. Swapping out your favorite ice cream after dinner for a greek yogurt 
  2. Increasing amount of protein at dinner
  3. Plan your breakfast around protein instead of a pastry or high carb muffin. 
  4. Complete at least 15 minutes of daily, conscious movement at least 5 days per week. 
  5. Decrease the amount of time you are sitting during the day and try to get up or move at least every hour.
  6. Try to improve the quality or duration of your sleep by going to bed earlier or writing in journal to unload your thoughts.

As you can see, although these changes may seem small, they can lead to an incredible amount of arthritis weight loss when consistent.

Consistency is one of the MOST VITAL aspects of making weight loss possible.

5. Enjoy the movement and eating you're doing

Enjoyment plays a huge role in the desire to maintain and sustain healthy habits. It’s hard to stick to something you genuinely don’t enjoy doing.

Instead, try to find new meals, new ways of cooking, spices, sauces, etc. to keep things interesting and tasty. Maximize the benefit by trying to find some form of exercise and weightlifting that you truly love and enjoy doing. If that is going out to a class or getting a group of friends together to lift or going for a walk with your family then get out and go. 

Enjoying and loving what you’re doing and eating will lead to habits that are more sustainable and will help you on your journey to lose weight, decrease pain, and get back to doing what you love.

There are so many different ways to eat foods and move in ways that your joints like. There isn’t one particular method that you NEED to follow just because you have osteoarthritis.

I have lots of movement ideas and other arthritis tips and tricks on my youtube channel which you can check out here! 

Arthritis Weight Loss is possible!

I know it can seem impossible to lose weight with osteoarthritis but it is feasible! 

Food and movement can be two of the most important things to start with when beginning your journey. 

I want you to know this is not a quick process. When it comes to weight loss, we can be really hard on ourselves if we don’t see results right away. 

It is important to create long term habits. If you a lot of weight quickly, it may not stay off. Losing weight slowly and with healthy changes can lead to a lifelong results as long as consistency remains. 

It’s important to have balance instead of perfection. It’s not that you can never have your favorite treats or miss a day of exercising. As long as you don’t completely fall off the wagon, a few days isn’t going to make or break your progress. 

The goal of Keep the Adventure Alive is to show you how to thrive and adventure with osteoarthritis. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed with where to start with both food and movement, I put everything in ONE, easy to find place for you.

Inside the Arthritis Adventure Blueprint you will gain access to 12 follow along workouts that safely progress in difficulty. You’ll also get an anti inflammatory grocery and food guide, PLUS so many other helpful resources.

Learn more below:

arthritis adventure blueprint

The Arthritis Adventure Blueprint

Dr. Alyssa Kuhn’s signature program to help you go from hopeless to hopeful with osteoarthritis. You will learn the secrets to arthritis pain relief that actually work- including exercise, diet, and other ways to control inflammation! Say goodbye to short term pain relief, it’s time to make it last.

Article written in collaboration with Kayci Smith, student physical therapist

References: 

Huang, Mao‐Hsiung, et al. “The effects of weight reduction on the rehabilitation of patients with knee osteoarthritis and obesity.” Arthritis Care & Research 13.6 (2000): 398-405.

Disclaimer: This post is for general informational purposes only. It should not be used to self-diagnose and it is not a substitute for a medical exam, cure, treatment, diagnosis, and prescription or recommendation. It does not create a doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Kuhn and you. You should not make any change in your health regimen or diet before first consulting a physician and obtaining a medical exam, diagnosis, and recommendation. Move Well Age Well, LLC and Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, PT, DPT are not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any conclusions drawn, services or product you obtain through this post, video or site. Complete all exercises at your own risk.