Outdoor winter exercises for people with arthritis

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For many of us, a fitness routine is a big part of our plans for the New Year — and in this case, a new decade. And, let’s face it — skiing isn’t the best activity for sore joints, knees in particular. But exercising in winter is actually very important. According to a report from the Cleveland Clinic, exercising in winter continues to release the “feel good” hormones that are known to help relieve pain throughout the body.

The thing is, what to do in winter? We can’t run in the park or play outdoor tennis. Even walking to the store can be hazardous if icy conditions are present.

But there are many fun and safe outdoor exercises you can do in the wintertime, that actually help your joints remain healthy and ready for the return of the warm sun a few months down the line.

Before you exercise outdoors, follow these cautionary tips

    • Workout in the afternoon or late morning. When it’s cold outside, joints tend to be particularly tight when you first wake up in the morning. Naturally, this increases the likelihood of discomfort and injury. We recommend waking up and warming up before taking part in exercises that boost the heart rate and stretch the joints. For those taking pain medication for joint pain and inflammation, this also gives the medication time to kick in.
    • Dress warm, even when exercising. Think back to playing sports as a kid. If you lived somewhere with a cold winter, your parents likely insisted that you wear your jacket outside en route to the car — even after you’d just finished playing a basketball game (or other sport that had you running around and building body heat). The reason is that the cold weather is tough on joints and extremities, even if you don’t actually feel cold in the moment. For this reason, exercise with gloves and warm clothes on.
    • Start with a warm-up, end with a cool down. Again, you don’t want the cold weather to strain your joints. Start with a light warm-up such as a five to ten-minute walk, then proceed to the activity, then cool down with another short walk or some stretching. 
  • Avoid extra pounding of the joints. As you may experience when getting out of bed in the morning, cold weather is the worst time to add unnecessary pressure to the joints. Consider activities that don’t put unnecessary strain on your knees, ankles, or wrists. This is especially true for those of us approaching older age. There’s a reason why those professional hockey players are so young!
  • Keep extra hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is important no matter the time of year, but when it’s cold outside, it’s imperative because you aren’t as likely to sweat — meaning you may not notice the exasperation as quickly as you do when exercising in warm weather.

Winter exercises for arthritis


Snowshoeing conjures images of Rabbit from Winnie The Pooh, trouncing around in her yard full of snow. It’s certainly not the most glamorous of activities, but snowshoeing can be a fun way to get out on the trail in winter and, more importantly, get that blood flowing through the joints. If you live near a park or trail system, get out after a fresh snowfall and stomp around for awhile. 

There’s likely to have been others out before you blazing the trail — all you have to do is walk in their footsteps. Snowshoes are inexpensive — often less than $100 — and are even available to rent at most outdoors outlets, such as REI. Bring hiking poles to minimize the impact on your knees. Besides the exercise, snowshoeing is a great excuse to get out and practice your winter photography.

Cross-country skiing

Far removed from the knee pain that often accompanies downhill skiing, cross-country skiing is a peaceful and leisurely activity that you can take part in at a local golf course, park, or nature trail. Because you’re able to go at your own pace, there’s minimal risk of straining your joints. 

Like snowshoes, cross-country skis can be rented from outdoors shops, Many recreation centers and community groups organize social outings to tackle a local trail, providing not only a great exercise but an opportunity to socialize in a casual setting. And, as an added perk, the hazards of downhill skiing — such as trees, rocks, and other skiers — are all but removed from the playing field.

Check out the stars at a local park

Here’s one you can do at night, that requires minimal exercise. Grab your warmest parka, a pair of winter gloves, boots, a blanket, and a beanie. We also recommend binoculars, if you have them, and any astronomy books you have collecting dust on the shelf. A notebook with a few blank pages helps too, to jot down constellation sketches or notes of what you see up in the cosmos.

Once you’re dressed for success, walk (carefully) or drive up to the nearest park or open space on a clear evening. Be sure to have a thermos of hot cocoa with you. Find an open spot, and set up the blanket for you and a partner. It’s like a real-life version of the most romantic scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, only with no need to walk across a sheet of ice.

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