7 Tips to Conquer the Cold When You Have Arthritis
The nights are drawing in, the air is chilling and the trees are getting more and more bare: once again, cold weather is here. We know that it can be tempting to wait out the winter months getting cosy on the sofa with a blanket and a hot water bottle, but whether it’s cold or hot outside one thing remains true: a lack of movement and exercise can make arthritis symptoms worse, even if moving doesn’t feel like something you want to do in the moment.
Unfortunately, many people feel that the colder months make their joint pain worse, which can make it even harder to get motivated to exercise. Does the cold really make your joints feel worse, and how can you conquer the cold and keep living life the way you want?
Does joint pain get worse during the colder months?
For those living with arthritis many swear they know when it's going to rain. Indeed, there has been a whole study around this called Cloudy With A Chance Of Pain which offers some essential insights.
What is worth noting is as the weather gets colder we instinctively spend more time inside. This can have a negative impact on arthritis. It means we're walking less, getting out and about and not moving as much. It's key to keep moving, especially when you have arthritis. Most smart phones these days are able to track your daily step count.
So how can you motivate yourself to get outdoors and keep moving in the cold? Read on for our 7 tips!
1. Get fresh air - but be mindful of your temperature
There are many benefits to getting some fresh air. It can elevate your mood, help your immune system, improve your memory, focus and energy levels, and even improve digestion!
Whilst the relationship between cold weather and arthritis isn’t super clear, some people do feel that their pain increases as the temperature drops - and sudden changes in temperature may make it worse. It can be a good idea to ease into the cold, rather than plunging straight in.
2. Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is really important generally, but perhaps even more so if you have arthritis. This is because vitamin D can help prevent the thinning of your bones and promote bone, tooth and muscle health. The body can create enough vitamin D from direct sunlight in the summer months, but from around October till early March we are unlikely to get enough natural vitamin D as the days are shorter and we tend to spend less time outdoors.
For this reason, the NHS recommends that everyone consider taking a Vitamin D supplement during the winter.
3. Get enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Here are some simple steps to try and take during the colder months.
- 1. Eat colourful fruit and vegetables. The phytochemicals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- 2. Get more of the right fatty acids into your body. Both Omega-3 fats and olive oil help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system. Steer clear of trans fat and limit the use of saturated fat.
3. Make sure you are not deficient in vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B12, found in meat, dairy, eggs and fish, and magnesium, found in green leafy vegetables and wholegrains, could be associated with pain sensitivity.
Some people may feel that certain supplements can help with their overall health, especially if they are not getting enough of a specific vitamin or mineral in their diet (this can be especially true of B12 if you follow a vegetarian diet). It is always a good idea to have a chat with your doctor about any supplements you are interested in and/or any deficiencies you are concerned about. They can help advise you and help you plan ways to increase the amount of nutrients you’re getting in your diet.
4. Maintain your muscle health
This is always a hard one, espeically when you're in pain, but maintaining and building muscles can be crucial in managing arthritis in the colder months.
It's often easier to do than you think as well and can be done during little moments at home. For example when doing the washing up, try standing on one leg for a minute and then swap legs. This can greatly help strengthen your core muscles which can help better support the rest of your frame. If you find it hard at first don't be ashamed to lean a little bit against the basin to help support you. It will still help you build muscle.
We're not suggesting you go out and buy dumbbells either. Anything in your house that has a small weight to it can be good for doing simple weight exercises. Books, food cans or even bottles of water can help you strengthen your arms and shoulders.
5. Stay hydrated!
It’s common sense that you need to drink a lot of water in the summer months, but it’s also really important to stay hydrated in the winter. When you’re dehydrated, your energy levels can fall because water helps keep your mind and body balanced. Not drinking enough water can also contribute to brain fog, irritable mood, headaches, weaker workouts and weight gain.
All of this will make it harder to work out and maintain your muscle strength, which can then lead to more arthritis pain.
6. Warm up before you cool down
Before you go out in the cold weather, it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes stretching and warming up your core and body temperature in the same way you might before doing a workout. This will help loosen up the joints and promote flexibility, which can be really helpful if you feel like your joints and muscles seize up in the cold weather. Try marching on the spot for a few minutes and doing a few gentle stretches before braving the outdoors.
It’s also important that you’re warm and comfortable in your indoor environment. Gadgets like heated blankets, heating pads (which can be applied to the sore area), portable heaters, hot water bottles and activities like having a warm bath or investing in an electric massager (many come with a heated option) can help you feel comfortable indoors.
7. Layers and layers
When it’s cold outside, you want to be wearing loose, comfortable layers that can be added or removed as you need. Loose layers trap body heat and can help you stay warm, but you will want to avoid overheating, especially if you go from outside to somewhere warm inside, and you may find that you heat up as you’re moving and become uncomfortably hot.
There are also special pieces of clothing (like thermal knee pads, heated gloves, neck warmers and thermal underwear) which can help keep your core body temperature warm and provide additional support to particularly painful areas - just be mindful of wearing these when you’re planning on being in a warmer environment as you may overheat!
What are your tips for conquering the cold when you have arthritis? Let us know on Facebook.