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What is arthritis?

It is pain in the joints caused by inflammation, or break down of cartilage (the tissue between joints that absorbs impact), lack of fluid in the joints or an auto-immune disease (rheumatoid arthritis.) Though conclusive evidence as to the link between cold weather and pain does not seem to exist, ask anyone who suffers from arthritis when their symptoms are the worst and they will probably all answer “in the winter.”

Though many of us—especially the elderly—choose to stay indoors during winter, this sedentary lifestyle might actually make us feel worse. It is important to stay active year round to decrease arthritis symptoms and to maintain overall health.

One challenge the elderly face in the winter months is where to exercise?

Arthritis and winter bluesIf you don’t belong to a local organization such as The YMCA, do a little research into the fitness classes for seniors. There are also community centers that offer fitness classes such as Tai-Chi. Clubs and classes not in your budget or still feeling like leaving your home to exercise is too much of a hassle? Pop in an exercise video (that can be borrowed from your local library) and work-out in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

According to Joe Feinglass, a research professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, “The federal guidelines recommend that adults with arthritis participate in 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, low-impact activity. That amounts to an average of slightly more than 20 minutes per day. ” Dr. Feinglass is also the author of “The Effects of Daily Weather on Accelerometer-Measure Physical Activity”, a study that was funded by the Nations Institute of Arthritis Musculoskeletal and Skin Activity.

Not only is it important to stay active in the winter to promote good health, but exercise is the only way to cleanse the joints of waste build up since there is no blood flow to cartilage. If we become sedentary, the joints’ natural lubricant and cleanser (synovial fluid) can’t do its job, and this leads to increased pain and joint inflammation.

According to “Arthritis Management in Winter” (Rehabit.com), arthritis sufferers tend to make their condition worse by not exercising but the greatest challenge seems to be motivating ourselves to get moving when it’s cold and we are feeling achy. Range of motion exercises are recommended to maintain or increase flexibility of the joints, as well as strengthening. Consult your physician or physical therapist on a safe home exercise regimen. And if you are adventurous and choose to continue your outdoor exercises throughout the colder months, dress warmly!

Exercise increases blood flood, strengthens our hearts, lungs, and muscles and can even help keep those winter blues at bay. Exercise helps our bodies feel younger longer. So don’t let those cold temperatures get your down. Get up and get moving! Your body will thank you.

 

Resources:

Dead of Winter is Tough on Arthritis Sufferers. Erin White November 3, 2011. Northwestern University News Center.

Arthritis Management in Winter. Rehabit Your Life, 2011.