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Why Your Mental Outlook on Arthritis Matters

When you suffer from osteoarthritis—and more than 30 million adults in the U.S. do—it's all too common to feel stuck sometimes.

You know that you should exercise more because being physically active can help reduce stiffness, increase joint movement, and help you lose weight (which puts less stress on your joints). You probably also know that getting in a 30-minute, moderately intense workout at least five days a week (or whatever amount of exercise your doctor has recommended) is ideal. But it can be difficult to motivate yourself to exercise when it hurts to move.

How can you get yourself over that hurdle? It might sound like something straight out of a self-help book or motivational pillow, but research has found one simple thing can help with your osteoarthritis symptoms: believing in yourself.

One recent study found that people with arthritis who reported believing in themselves were more likely to be physically active. These individuals took more steps and spent a longer amount of time doing moderate-intensity activities during the day. Another, larger study found that participants with pain from knee osteoarthritis who felt positive emotions walked more steps than those who reported bad moods or depressive symptoms.

Experts at the Arthritis Foundation agree that your attitude can make all the difference. Feeling more optimistic can counteract sadness or fear, both of which can heighten pain. But if you believe that your circumstances can and will change, you’re more likely to practice healthy habits like exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

So if you suffer from arthritis, when you think about (and talk about) being active, eliminate certain words from your vocabulary right now. Gone are the days of "I don't think I can..." or "I'm not able to..." or "I'm too tired and achy to..." or "I could never..."

Instead, tell yourself this: You're able, you can, and you will. Look at yourself in the bathroom mirror each morning and say the following out loud to yourself, "I will go for a brisk walk today," "I will do water aerobics today," or "I will garden today." Or write down those affirmations in a journal on your nightstand immediately after you wake up. If you’re having a bad pain day, remind yourself that it doesn’t have to stop you. You can take an OTC medication like Advil to help with minor arthritis pain (it even has an easy-open cap), and adjust your plans in a positive way. For example, if you were planning to take a long walk today, head to the gym for a swim instead. If your doctor told you to rest, use this as an opportunity to go through your paperwork and search your library’s online catalog for some new books to read. Before you know it, you’ll be back on your feet and ready to seize the day (and buy another motivational pillow).

Get more great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.