Using Diet and Exercise to Treat Chronic Pain

Eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise is a good idea for everyone, however, people with chronic pain can benefit significantly from both. For people with chronic pain, an anti-inflammatory diet is likely to be a lifestyle change instead of a temporary solution.

Research shows that eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help reduce chronic pain symptoms.
Diet and Exercise for Pain Reduction

Diet can affect inflammation
An anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes vegetables—particularly dark leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, fish, legumes (nuts, beans, seeds).

Avoiding processed foods, sugar (including in less obvious foods, such as ketchup and cereal), and red meat may help improve inflammatory pain in the body.

An anti-inflammatory diet is not one-size fits all and a person may benefit from working with a doctor or nutritionist to develop a personalized and optimal diet. For example, a plant-based diet that incorporates whole wheat may help reduce inflammation in one person, however another person may find that gluten—made from proteins found in wheat—causes inflammation.


Exercise can prompt weight loss and decrease stress
Regular exercise, even as simple as walking, is beneficial to people with chronic pain in a number of ways:

  • Weight loss. Extra weight causes stress of joints and muscles which can increase pain.
  • Stress reduction. The body releases endorphins during exercise, which trigger a positive feeling.
  • Improved sleep. People who are physically active often sleep longer and more deeply than people who do not exercise.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to a person with chronic pain, movement can help decrease the intensity of pain. Often, a person who is sedentary will develop physical deconditioning and muscle stiffness, which can be associated with increased chronic pain.


Every person is different, therefore the type of exercise that helps—or hurts—will vary. For example, if walking hurts, try water therapy which helps alleviate joint stress and inflammation. A doctor or physical therapist can help guide a person when choosing an exercise routine.