The benefits of exercise are well established. However, during the cooler months many people with arthritis feel their symptoms worsen. 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 in particular reduced daylight hours in winter were associated with lower levels of physical activity.
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.
In order 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:
• 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 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 at home, to improve 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 put on your favourite music as you clean. For a more structured activity at home, set up an area for exercise with a chair or a mat and use an arthritis approved exercise DVD. If you are watching TV, try some gentle chair based exercises and stretches, you could add in some hand weights to increase the resistance.
Exercise in the Office
If you work in an office environment and the weather is not conducive to a lunch time walk, take regular walking breaks around the office, and do some arthritis friendly chair based exercises and stretches regularly throughout the day. If you are able, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Move your regular walking routine to later in the day when it’s warmer outside. Remember to dress warmly, paying special attending to the head, hands and feet, as the majority of heat is lost from the body’s extremities. Wear loose layers that can be easily removed, gloves, a hat or beanie and a scarf. Meeting up with a friend is a good 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 a number of 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 to 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.
by Mel Browne, Community Project Coordinator (Exercise)