Are you finding that the cold weather gets in your way when it comes to staying active? It’s easy to get stuck in a wintery vicious cycle: it gets cold, so you move less often, which causes stiffness in joints, so you feel like you can’t get moving, and around it goes until the weather warms up once more…
But why do joints hurt more in the first place? Research is still unsure of the exact answer, however there are a few theories which make sense. Firstly, when it is cold, our body goes into a type of ‘survival mode’ and redirects blood towards the core to protect our vital organs. This results in less blood flow to our joints, and can explain why we can feel the cold from our fingers to our toes. This lack of blood flow can make joints feel stiff, and as a result, we move them less and less.
Secondly, many people with osteoarthritis report being sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. If you feel like you can predict when it’s about to rain based on your pain, you might be one of them! Right before rain or a storm, barometric pressure decreases, so it is possible that the tissues in your body may expand a small amount. Minor expansion and contraction of tissues can certainly be all it takes to trigger your pain response.
In order to get off the immobility merry-go-round, keeping up your physical activity levels is key. When we exercise, our whole core body temperature rises and blood gets sent throughout the body once more, particularly to the working muscles and joints. This means that even on the coldest days, you can feel the heat of exercise!
Keep your movement sensible and safe by following these tips:
- Layer up: Lots of layered clothing will help to trap the heat your body creates whilst exercising, and can also be removed to prevent overheating.
- Warm up: Ease into things by thoroughly warming up your body and joints, rather than going directly to a high intensity workout.
- Dress up: Consider items such as gloves, beanies and scarves to reduce the body’s exposure to cold air, especially if you get stiffness in the hands or neck.
- Remember that movement creates heat: Heat is a byproduct of our metabolic processes when we exercise, which will move to the blood and raise our core temperature and help us warm up from the inside out.
- Stay inside, if you like: Hydrotherapy pools, heated yoga classes and your own loungeroom are all great places to stay active if the cold weather just isn’t your friend.
If you know you struggle to stay motivated in the cold, enlist the help of a friend or family member to keep you active until the sun comes back out. Booking in your exercise like an appointment in both of your diaries means that you are far more likely to commit and follow through on it.
Staying active through winter is also a great mood booster, as we don’t get our regular summertime exposure to vitamin D through sunshine. Research has shown that walking out in nature is even better for our mood and mindset, so get those layers on and get moving!