Be Your Best Yet! Start Fresh In 2020
Arthritis Today|Winter 2019-2020
Your “someday” is here. It’s time to make your vision of a happier, healthier future a reality.
Mary Anne Dunkin

How do you envision your perfect future? A slimmer, more mobile body? Better health? Greater contentment and happiness?

With a new decade rising, there’s no better time to set goals and take steps toward the kind of future you want. Wherever you are right now, there’s room for improvement – and it’s achievable.

We spoke with experts in four areas that have a big impact on health and happiness – living space, outlook, diet, and fitness – who suggest small changes you can start now to make your vision for 2020 and the decade to come to a reality.


It’s the place you call home, where you curl up with a good book or a movie, spend time with your family and pets, tackle favorite projects or just take it easy when your arthritis flares. Even if you have a full-time job and an active social life, you likely spend more time in your home than anywhere else. You want it to be its best because research shows that your environment can affect your mood and well-being. Simple changes such as fresh paint, a good cleaning and a few modifications can make your home more visually pleasing, organized, safer and more comfortable.

Tidy up

“When things are cluttered and it feels stifling, it affects our mood and affects our ability to want to be engaged in good habits,” says Michelle Maidenberg, PhD, president and clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a center for group therapy in Harrison, New York, and adjunct graduate professor of cognitive-behavioral therapy and human behavior at New York University. Almost anyone could stand a little less clutter in their lives, but she says the effects might be even greater for people with a condition like arthritis. “With a chronic illness there is so much you can’t control, I think it is important to try to implement things you have control over. The condition of your home is one of those things.”

Clutter may also worsen fatigue if it requires you to hoist heavy boxes or sift through or navigate around piles to find what you need.

The best way to eliminate clutter? As with any other habit, make a commitment to do it and get started. If the task seems too daunting, pick one small space – for example, that kitchen drawer that seems to accumulate everything – to clean and organize. When you finish that, move to the next. Let the feeling of accomplishment motivate you.

Alternatively, make cleanup a game. Challenge yourself on the first day to find one item to rehome – meaning toss, donate or move to a more appropriate location in your home – then two items on the second, three on the third and so forth.

Liven it up

“You want an environment where you feel engaged, present and comforted,” says Maidenberg. Adding color, light and meaningful objects can lift your mood. To easily and inexpensively add new life to your living space:

• Add color. Paint an accent wall, get a new bedspread, replace lampshades or get colorful throw pillows for your couch.

• Add light. Make sure all lights have bulbs with the highest recommended wattage, particularly in stairwells, and use table lamps and night lights. “All of us need more light as we age,” says Pamela Todo, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s occupational therapy department. Lighting not only brightens the space but also reduces the risk of tripping or falling.

• Update wall décor. Hang a mirror opposite a window to add light and the illusion of more space, or paint cheap picture frames in a single color and create a grouping of pictures you love.

• Find inspiring quotes. Select a few and hang them on the refrigerator or another spot where you will see them regularly.

Bring in nature. Put wildflowers in a vase, plant a mini herb garden to put on your windowsill or display interesting rocks or shells in a bottle or vase.

Make it comfortable

Furniture that sits too low, cabinets stacked too high and household items that are heavy or require gripping can take a toll on arthritic joints.

If you plan to remodel your home, Todo recommends working with an occupational therapist and a contractor experienced in modifications for people with disabilities – and think about your future, long-term needs.

To make your living space more arthritis-friendly right now, try these simple, inexpensive (or free) fixes.

• Make adjustments. If painful hips or knees make getting up from a chair difficult, add cushions to raise the seat. For beds, use risers under the legs.

• Think strategically. Place items you use frequently where you can reach them easily. If you live alone, Toto recommends keeping one place setting within easy reach for mealtime. Put items you wear daily – pajamas, socks, underwear – in drawers at waist level, while less frequently worn or off-season items can go in low drawers.

• Fend off falls. Install railings by steps and grab bars in bathrooms, particularly if you are unsteady on your feet.

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