Top Tips for exercising in the winter!

Whilst cold wintery days are for snuggling up on the couch with hot cup of tea, it is also important to continue staying active. Your joints might not agree with a cold snap, but they love physical activity and exercise. Without physical activity, this can lead to your joints becoming stiff and painful over time

Studies show that people with arthritis and related diseases – including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia – benefit from regular exercise. Physical activity eases arthritis pain, increases strength and flexibility, boosts your energy and improves your overall quality of life. When the temperature drops, it can be tricky to stay motivated to exercise but below are some tips and tricks to keep you moving and exercising through the wintery climate

1. Stay Warm & Layer up

If you are planning to go for a walk or you need to leave the house to exercise, make sure you rug up and layer that clothing. In general, start with a thin layer, then add a layer of fleece, and top with a waterproof, breathable outer layer, by dressing in layers it makes it easier to remove during your exercise when you start to heat up.

2. Time it right.

For some people, joint stiffness hits at its worse first thing in the morning, making an early morning workout uncomfortable, painful and challenging. For some others, the joint stiffness could hit later on in the evening after a full day of using the joints. By scheduling in your workout at times when your joint stiffness is not as bad, could make it easier to commit to. If your joints are worse in the morning, take your walk later in the day when it’s slightly warmer outside and your joints have loosened up. Plus, if you’re taking pain medications, waiting gives them a chance to kick in before you exercise. If your joint stiffness hits later at night, try working out a little bit earlier to avoid the stiffness derailing your motivation.

3. Warm up and stretch properly

Whilst warming up is important all year round, in winter the muscles tend to be a little colder and a little tighter and more prone to injury and strain. In order to prevent any undue strain or injury, you should take 15 minutes before your exercise to complete a low intensity warm up. Make sure you listen to your body and go slow, but your muscles and joints love a warm up.

4. Get active indoors

If you normally spend time exercising outdoors but you are finding it trickier to stick to due to the ache or pain in your joints, you may want to try exercising indoors, whether it be at a local gym or in your own household. There are a wide range of exercise videos that are available online through YouTube or fitness applications that can help motivate and guide you to keep your exercise up, safely. In today’s day and age, we can access a variety of workout video at our fingertips from strength, flexibility, low impact weight bearing exercises to pilates, yoga tai chi.

5. Mix up your exercise

Before starting any new exercise, it is always important to speak with a healthcare professional to help you develop a suitable program and choose the best activities for you. By mixing up your exercises, it keeps your body and muscles moving in new and different ways which is good for building injury resilience and optimising your joint health.

6. Stay hydrated

Due to the cold temperatures, winter dehydration can cause muscle cramps, stiffness, muscle fatigue, loss of co-ordination. This is the case largely because, in cold weather, you may not notice how much water you lose. And if you don’t feel thirsty, which is often the case in the winter, you may not replenish said lost water. Over the course of a few days or weeks, this can lead to serious dehydration. Staying hydrated is important for your joint cartilage and producing the synovial fluid that nourishes the tissue and keep your joints moving healthily, when your body is dehydrated, your joints are unable to maintain their lubrication and keep that fluid nourishing the joints. Winter can also lead to a diminished thirst response, which makes it tricky again to keep your hydration up. Make sure you continue to aim for 2-3L a day you can also keep your fluids up by drinking warm teas, coffees and soups!

If you are someone who struggles to stay motivated to exercise during winter, start with setting yourself a small goal. Make sure it is realistic and achievable.

Mary Zagotsis
Health Educator
Arthritis NSW

June 2023