Avoid the Immobilizing Diabetes-Arthritis Connection

foot arthritisAs regular readers know, we stress the importance of stopping prediabetes before full type 2 diabetes develops along with the often devastating complications. One of those complications is arthritis. There are actually several types of arthritis that diabetics can develop more commonly than people without diabetes, one of them is osteoarthritis. Stop prediabetes and avoid the arthritis-diabetes connection.

I have previously posted about osteoarthritis, so called wear-and-tear arthritis, and what you can do with nutrients, food, and exercise to help counter the inflammation, stiffness and discomfort that occurs in sore arthritic joints. As a podiatrist and foot surgeon, when I am not serving as the editor of Nutrientology, I am often helping people with foot arthritis. This can be a medical challenge, every step can hurt, and when your feet hurt, you hurt all…you know the rest.

When arthritis of the foot or ankle develops, it not only reduces mobility, it makes healthy blood sugar control that much more difficult. In addition, many times arthritis will cause a bone bump or lump at the arthritic joint. This arthritic lump will often become a source of ulceration – and possible infection – from either being walked on or rubbed raw by a shoe.  This problem may require corrective surgery.

To make matters even worse, many diabetics go on to develop the complication of nerve damage known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy. When this happens they do not feel the arthritis discomfort, but that is not such a good thing. Without feeling, the joint can become damaged more quickly. Some diabetics with nerve damage can even end up with a more significant damaging and deforming form of arthritis, known as neurogenic arthritis, or Charcot deformity.

How common is arthritis among people with diabetes?

A study published in Diabetes Care suggests that diabetics have a higher chance of getting arthritis than the general population. The researchers in this “arthritis in diabetics study” looked at medical data from thousands of people with and without diabetes:

  • 48% of people with diabetes reported having arthritis
  • 20% of people without diabetes reported having arthritis

After the researchers took age into consideration, the presence of arthritis was 51% higher among adults with diabetes.

After they took many different variables into consideration that could possibly affect the development of arthritis such as: age, sex (male or female, not frequency :-)), race/ethnicity, education level, body size/weight, and physical activity level, they found that adults with diabetes had a 44% higher risk for having arthritis than people without diabetes.

Why is this? Some believe it is due to the overall increased amount of chronic inflammation diabetics have running through their system. Along with diabetes comes chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body. Controlling blood sugars through proper food, movement, lifestyle, and medicine when indicated, is the foundation for reducing inflammation in people with diabetes and pre-diabetes. In addition to the article I cited above on nutrients, food and exercise for diabetes, I have also previously written about curcurmin as a natural anti-inflammatory that may benefit diabetics in other ways.

What if arthritis keeps you from walking?

Part of maintaining a healthy blood sugar level involves regular movement, but unfortunately diabetics with arthritis are more likely to limit their activity level. So, as a podiatrist-foot specialist, when I advise diabetic patients to walk as part of a healthy metabolism to help promote good blood sugar levels, I first address any problem areas that may be keeping them from walking any distance.

older adult on stationary bikeFor many diabetics, walking simply may not be an option. In that case, stationary bikes are a good way to move the feet and legs to promote health. People with low-back problems usually do better with recumbent stationary bikes. If you can come up with specific reasons why you may not want to engage in a lifestyle that promotes health, doctors can make different recommendations tailored to you, and better help you overcome any challenges you may have toward a healthier life. Do not be hesitant to talk to your doctors about this. They will be overjoyed by having a motivated patient and more than happy to discuss these issues with you.

In addition to being more prone to arthritis, diabetics are more likely to have mobility problems when compared to other people their age because of the many nasty complications and other medical conditions that go along with this disease. If you have prediabetes, do what you can now to reverse it and prevent full type 2 diabetes. You can avoid the complications of diabetes and enjoy a a functional and independent life into your senior years. Studies have shown that losing weight and improving fitness can stop or delay some of the movement and mobility difficulties found in older overweight type 2 diabetics. Make lifestyle changes and dedicate time for some type of exercise activity to help you remain mobile.

Think specifically about why you may not want to enter into a healthier lifestyle involving movement of the feet and legs for a better metabolism and healthier blood sugar levels to hopefully avoid diabetes and its often immobilizing diabetic complications. If you are being honest with yourself, some of the answers may surprise you. Act now before you become significantly overweight. You can reach “a point of no return.” I have spoken to many patients in this condition – they are replete with regret. YOU do NOT want to go there.

Diabetes lifestyle change research

If you need further proof, medical researchers have tested a program of “intensive lifestyle intervention that produces weight loss and improves fitness” in which obese or overweight diabetic volunteers were encouraged to lose weight through structured diet education and diet plans along with exercise at least three hours per week, primarily by walking.

They compared this group of people to another group of volunteers that attended group meetings three times per year for nutrition and physical activity information as well as support for following through on the information that was discussed at the education meetings.

The study analyzed over 5,000 patients, ages 45 to 74 years. They reported their own mobility on health surveys given over four years and took fitness tests at different points during the study period.

The structured lifestyle-intervention group that pursued a more aggressive exercise and weight loss approach had a 48 % less risk of loss of mobility problems, when compared to the support group. Both weight loss and improved fitness were found to be significant factors in this reduced risk.

It should be noted that the structured lifestyle intervention group did have a slightly higher frequency of muscle and joint aches. It has been shown over and over again that exercise and movement benefits arthritic joints, but this needs to be done in a smart way. Listen to your body, and if a particular area is giving you problems, don’t push it. Work around it. For example, if you have a pain in the ball of your foot while walking, use a bicycle for aerobic fitness or do more resistance leg exercises such as leg extensions, leg curls, and shallow knee bend squats with your weight on your heels. These movements do not involve placing a stress on the ball of the foot. Talk to a podiatrist-foot specialist about how you can remain active with a foot problem. Your metabolism will thank you.

Movement maintains mental mojo

brain exercise for pre type 2 diabetes diet supplement and metabolic syndrome x treatmentNot only is movement helpful and important for reducing any arthritis aches and pains, and supporting a healthy metabolism, it is also helpful for maintaining a sharp mind, especially as you age. One of the aims of Nutrientology is to give you the knowledge to have your best health as you age. Brain health is very important toward that end, but guess what, diabetics are more prone to dementia at a younger age. Over time, increased blood sugar levels not only make you forgetful, sugar can literally change the structure of your brain.

One form of exercise that has been found to be especially helpful for your brain is weight training. Researchers have found that supervised weight lifting appears to improve mental functioning among older adults dealing with early memory loss. Aerobics-based walking programs, or balance and toning classes do not tend to show similar mental health benefits.

These researchers used various memory and problem solving tests, as well as actually using MRI imaging to visually looking at the brains of the senior citizen volunteers. They were not quite sure why resistance exercise movements improved mental status in the older adults involved in the study. There may be some direct blood circulation benefit, or perhaps it is due to the increased thinking that occurs with resistance exercise versus doing something that comes more naturally, such as walking.

older male and female adult lifting dumbbell weights

Men, strive to use a heavier dumbbell than your wife. 🙂

For example, resistance exercise, especially when carried out with free weights or even on machines in a gym setting, requires you to think about what you are going to do, how you are going to move, how you are going to position yourself, how many repetitions you are going to do, how many sets of a particular exercise you are going to do, etc…you get the point.

Some form of resistance exercise or “weightlifting” has been shown to have multiple benefits on your body other than improved thinking ability. It is important to incorporate at least some resistance movements into your lifestyle no matter what your age. There are many other benefits to walking and engaging in toning and balance exercise movements. I would not discourage you from doing these activities, however there are multiple health benefits from doing at least some light weightlifting on a regular basis.

Tip: If you have an arthritic joint, you may find that it will tolerate the less dynamic and more controlled resistance motion of an exercise machine. Exercise bands can also serve as a source of resistance that is well-suited for the home setting.

Resistance exercise-movements especially important for your feet and legs

Resistance exercise is especially important for the lower extremities – your feet, legs and thighs. It is the thighs, legs and feet that are responsible for maintaining your movement ability, and therefore your ability to enjoy a functional and independent life as you get older. Of course, you want to speak to your doctor about this, and start with a light weight. Keep your feet healthy. They are the foundation for most all other health producing exercise activity.

If you are uncomfortable going to an exercise facility and using machines, you can simply get some hand-held weights or consider exercise bands. There are also many movements that you can do that simply use your own bodyweight as a form of resistance. It is very important to use at least some resistance movements for the legs and thighs for happy and healthy aging. Stay in touch with Nutrientology for more on this important topic.

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About Robert Creighton

Dr. Creighton is a podiatrist and foot surgeon with over 26 years in podiatric practice treating thousands of patients afflicted with the physiological, physical, and psychological side effects and complications of diabetes and pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome. He believes these disorders present a pressing public health concern that need to be more actively addressed in a multidisciplinary way. Dr. Creighton graduated from what is now the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in Biology. He is certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a member of the American Public Health Association, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a Member of the American Nutrition Association.

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