There has been relatively little research on the role of diet in treating JIA, and there are no special dietary guidelines for children with arthritis. It is, however, important to maintain a varied and balanced diet as part of a healthy lifestyle. Nutritionists may recommend particular diet or foodstuffs for children with JIA, but it is important to be aware that there are no studies showing this is effective.
Vitamin D is important for healthy bones. Children with chronic arthritis, like most children living in northerly countries such as Scotland, have low vitamin D levels, and supplements are recommended especially during the winter months.
Children with JIA tend to be less physically active than their peers, for entirely understandable reasons. It can be hard to enjoy exercising you are feeling stiff, sore, and tired. And for many years, the received wisdom was that extended rest was the best treatment for swollen and painful joints. But medical advice has changed, and current thinking stresses the safety and the benefits of regular physical activity for children with JIA.
Recent studies have shown, first, that exercise is safe. Having JIA should not prevent a child from playing contact sports or engaging in the most strenuous exercise. Any child can sustain injuries playing sports or exercising; but there is no evidence that having JIA makes this more likely.
Regular exercise, second, is beneficial. It can help children gain strength and flexibility; increase their endurance; and improve their overall fitness levels. And by maintaining an active lifestyle as they grow older, children can increase their chances of avoiding disease and remaining healthy later in life.
Alongside diet and exercise, sleep is a key element of a healthy lifestyle. Inadequate sleep can lead to many physical and social problems, and among children with JIA it is linked to increased pain. Unfortunately, many children with JIA struggle to get a good night’s sleep. In some cases, this may be a sign of inadequate preparation: a consistent bedtime routine–one that encourages relaxation and calm–can dramatically improve a child’s sleep. In this context, it is worth noting that many experts recommend that children not watch television, play computer games, or use mobile phones for at least an hour before bedtime.
Sleep Scotland offers a range of resources designed to help ensure your child receives a good night’s sleep.