Fall (and winter!) are right around the corner, and while it’s tempting
to huddle up on the sofa on cold days, arthritis knows no season. A lack
of activity can cause your joints to become stiff, so move it or lose
it. Exercise eases arthritis pain, increases strength and flexibility,
and boosts your energy. Studies show that people with arthritis and related
diseases – includingosteoarthritis,
psoriatic arthritis and
fibromyalgia – benefit from regular exercise. Exercise lessens pain and improves
your overall quality of life.
Jingle Bell Run events are right around the corner, and whether you’re prepping to participate
in our 5K, or exercising in your neighborhood, taking a few simple precautions
can help control your arthritis pain and keep you active and outdoors
throughout the colder months.
Time it right
Joint stiffness is usually worse when you first wake up, making an early
morning workout uncomfortable and painful. Take your walk later in the
day when it’s warmer outside and your joints have loosened up. Plus,
if you’re taking pain medications it gives them a chance to kick
in before you exercise. To warm up joints faster try popping your workout
clothes in the dryer for five minutes while you get ready.
Dress in loose layers
Dress in comfortable layers that you can take off as you warm up and put
on (or zip back up) at the end, says Nader Nassif, MD, orthopedic surgeon
with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California. Loose layers trap
body heat and keep joints warm. Be careful not to overdress, however.
“After your warm up, you can potentially become overheated if you
are wearing too many layers,” says Dr. Nassif. In general, start
with a thin synthetic layer (not cotton), add a layer of fleece, and top
with a waterproof, breathable outer layer.
Hydration is most often associated with sweat and the summer months, but
it’s just as important to drink plenty of water in winter, too.
You still sweat and lose fluid in cold weather, says Dr. Nassif. “Make
sure you stay hydrated before, during and after your workout.” Dehydration
can affect mood and even brain function. In general, drink about 16 ounces
(two cups) of water two hours before a workout.
Protect your extremities
Working out in cold weather exposes your hands, feet, ears and nose to
severe temperatures. “If you suffer from Raynaud’s use chemical
hand warmers in your gloves and boots,” says Nathan Wei, MD, director
of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Maryland. “And wear
mittens instead of gloves since they keep your hands warmer.” A
hat or beanie is ideal for keeping your ears covered and reduces the amount
of heat you lose from the top of your head.
Don’t let cold weather deceive you: Sunny winter days are just as
likely to result in sunburn, says Dr. Nassif. This is especially true
if you have psoriasis or lupus, or if you take NSAIDs or methotrexate,
which can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. “Make sure you
wear appropriate sunscreen (SPF 50) on exposed parts and protect your
eyes with sunglasses or ski goggles.” Remember to reapply if you’re
sweating or after more than two hours outdoors. Include a soothing lip
balm with sunscreen to prevent windburn and sunburn as well.
Ice isn’t the only danger when walking or exercising outdoors. Packed
snow can also make you lose your footing and cause a fall. “Look
for ways to get added traction,” says Tom Holland, Connecticut exercise
physiologist and 23-time Ironman triathlete. He recommends simple cleats
you strap on to your shoes that provide traction when walking on ice or
snow. Trail shoes also provide more grip and stability than running or
walking shoes made for the road, without buying special equipment.
Always bring a phone and let people know where you’re going, says
Holland. “If you slip or fall while walking or biking it’s
a good idea someone knows where they can find you.” In addition,
choose a neighborhood that’s familiar to you, so if large snowbanks
or road detours prevent you from taking your regular route you know how
to find your way back home, Holland adds.
Warm up and cool down
Before you go outside spend a few minutes warming up, which is especially
important when you have arthritis, says Holland. “The goal is to
warm up your core. This helps loosen up your joints and gives your muscles
added flexibility.” Warm up by marching in place or on a treadmill
for five to 10 minutes at a slow-comfortable pace and then stretching
out all major muscle groups. After your workout, take time to cool down
and stretch out afterward as well.
Cardiovascular exercise does not have to include high-impact exercise such
as skiing, jogging or running. In fact, Dr. Wei recommends low-impact
exercise such as snowshoeing, cross country skiing or walking. These sports
are not only easier on the joints but provide all the many benefits of
Take it inside
On the coldest winter days it’s best to work out indoors where you
can control the environment better, says Wei. Walk at the mall, hop on
a stationary bike, go for a swim at the local aquatic center or take an
exercise class at the gym. According to the American College of Sports
Medicine, cold weather itself should not be a barrier to exercising outdoors,
especially if you are accustomed to it. However, those with Raynaud’s
syndrome, heart disease or asthma are at highest risk of being impacted
by the cold and may need to avoid outdoor exercise in frigid temperatures