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Arthritis and Exercise in Winter

The benefits of exercise are well established; however, many people with arthritis feel their symptoms worsen during the cooler months. This, combined with the cold weather, can result in people foregoing their regular exercise routines. 

A study conducted by Joe Feinglass, a research professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine¹, examined the effect of weather on physical activity in people with arthritis. Participants in the study wore a device called an accelerometer which enabled physical activity levels to be tracked. The results demonstrated significant seasonal variation in exercise activity. Cold weather, rain, and reduced daylight hours in winter were associated with lower physical activity levels.

The study was carried out in the Northern hemisphere. However, as daylight hours in Western Australia (WA) are reduced by up to 4 hours during winter, the findings are relevant to people living in WA.

To minimise the impact of changes in winter upon your physical activity levels, here are some tips to enable you to continue with exercise during the winter months:

Indoor Exercise

  • Exercise indoors where the temperature can be controlled, at a gym or community group fitness class. Group classes are a great way to improve motivation and connect with others.
  • Find an indoor activity that you enjoy so that you are more likely to continue with the exercise, such as swimming at a heated pool or attending hydrotherapy classes.
  • Exercising in warm water is an excellent way for people with arthritis to build up strength and aid joint mobility whilst performing activity in a medium that enables reduced joint loading.
  • Walking indoors at a gym, shopping centre or art gallery.
  • Tai chi programs designed for arthritis can increase flexibility, strengthen muscles, improve balance, and reduce stress.
  • Cycling with a stationary bike at a gym or home improves your aerobic fitness and strength. Purchase a stand to change your existing bike into an indoor stationary bike.
  • Gentle Yoga for arthritis classes to help improve joint health, flexibility and balance and foster deep relaxation.

Exercise at Home 

Household chores such as vacuuming and sweeping provide incidental exercise and keep the body active. To make it more enjoyable:

  1. Put on your favourite music as you clean.
  2. For a more structured activity at home, set up an area for exercise with a chair or a mat and use arthritis approved exercise DVD.
  3. If you are watching TV, try some gentle chair-based exercises and stretches, you could add some hand weights to increase the resistance. Arthritis & Osteoporosis WA have several instructional ‘Exercise at Home’ videos that you can follow in the comfort of your home! Just visit www.arthritiswa.org.au/videos/

Exercise in the Office

If you work in an office environment and the weather is not conducive to a lunchtime walk, take regular walking breaks around the office, do some arthritis-friendly chair-based exercises, and stretch regularly throughout the day. If you are able, take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Exercising Outdoors

Move your regular walking routine to later in the day when it’s warmer outside. Remember to dress warmly, paying particular attention to the head, hands, and feet, as most heat is lost from the body’s extremities. Wear loose layers that you can easily remove, such as gloves, a hat or beanie and a scarf. Meeting up with a friend is a great way to ensure you don’t miss a session.

It is also worth remembering to drink water whilst exercising in winter. Adequate hydration is just as important during the cooler months as we still lose fluid and sweat during exercise in winter. The amount of water required to stay well hydrated depends on many factors, including temperature, gender, body weight, and the duration and intensity of exercise participation. As a general guide, aim for between 2-2.5 litres per day²; drink before, during and after exercise and do not wait until you feel thirsty to drink water.

A final word of advice is to seek advice from your Doctor or Health Professional before commencing any new exercise program and check that any exercise program you participate in is safe and suitable for arthritis.

For information about AOWA’s Hydrotherapy Pool Sessions and Land-Based Exercise Classes visit www.arthritiswa.org.au/services/exercise or call us on 1800 011 041.


  1. Feinglass, J., Dunlop, D.,  Song, J., Semanik, P., Chang, RW.  The Effects of Daily Weather on Accelerometer-measured Physical Activity among Adults with Arthritis.  J Phys Act Health;2011 Sep; 8(7): 934–943
  2. Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and New Zealand Ministry of Health (2006). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes.  Retrieved from https://www.nrv.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/n35-water_0.pdf

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