[UPDATED OCTOBER 2023]
As you age, your joints become more susceptible to stiffness. What’s more, muscles and joints tend to weaken when winter comes around. But why does the cold weather affect your joints? And how can you keep yourself moving during the winter months? Let’s take a closer look…
Why does the cold affect your joints?
Stiff knees, achy elbows and generally sore joints are often associated with the falling temperatures of winter. Although there’s no single explanation why a drop in temperature affects your joints, here are a few of the most common causes:
- A drop in air pressure. This causes tendons, muscles and tissues in your body to expand, which in turn causes discomfort and makes moving more difficult.
- Tense muscles. The cold can cause your muscles to freeze up – literally. Even if you didn’t have existing joint stiffness, this can be difficult to deal with.
- A lack of movement. The colder the temperature, the more likely you are to stay indoors. But everybody needs exercise to help stretch and warm up their muscles. This is especially important in the fight against stiffness.
Exercising when it’s cold outside
When it comes to keeping your joints healthy, the best thing for you is movement. Moving around each day – even in small bouts – will boost your strength, flexibility and resilience. And, believe it or not, exercising actually helps to alleviate joint stiffness. Is the cold weather causing you to lose motivation? Read our complete guide on how to stay active when it’s cold outside.
If the weather is too extreme – think icy paths, heavy rain or snow – the last thing you want to do is put on some trainers and go for a walk. Staying on the sofa in your pyjamas with a hot chocolate is much more tempting. But why not exercise at home? Even just doing some simple stretches in your own living room will improve your overall wellbeing.
Or why not book yourself into a local class? Your nearest leisure centre is likely to be running sessions for people with joint stiffness. The local swimming pool should be at the top of your list of places to visit this winter. Swimming is great for your joints. That’s because water acts as an aid to relieve strain on your joints, allowing you to do movements which would otherwise be impossible.
Other activities, such as cycling, dancing and yoga, are also great for your joints. And they’re good fun! When it comes to working out, you’re more likely to stick with doing something you love.
Our top tip: Go for one walk per day – at least. If you can, try to avoid exercising outside in the morning or evening. It’s generally colder at these times, which can cause your joints and muscles to stiffen.
Other ways to fight the cold
With winter in full swing, joint stiffness can sometimes stop you doing the things you love. Here are some of our favourite tips to protect your joints when it’s cold outside:
1. Stay warm
Heat acts like a sauna for your stiff joints. It increases blood flow, relaxes muscles and stimulates your skin. That’s why staying warm is one of the best ways to soothe stiffness. Here are a few ideas to keep your joints warm this winter:
- Layer up – vests and thermal leggings will be your new best friend
- Take warm showers or baths in the morning
- Use heating pads
- Wear gloves or mittens to trap in body heat
- Get cosy under blankets
- Hold a hot cup of tea.
2. Eat healthily
Like most of us, you may well tend to overindulge during the festive season. But what you might not know is that extra weight means you’re more likely to suffer from stiffness as it puts extra strain on your joints. Plus, additional fat can increase discomfort and inflammation. Small changes in your diet combined with regular exercise will help ease the pressure on your joints.
3. Don’t stress out
There’s no scientific evidence that stress contributes to joint stiffness. Having said that, running around doing your Christmas shopping, cooking on your feet all day and just generally being busy can overwork your joints.
4. Rest up
Getting a good night’s sleep does wonders for your body. This means no staying up for Santa or late-night winter parties. Fatigue increases aches and will make your body stiffen up.
5. Stay hydrated
You might be surprised to learn that you sweat as much during winter as you do the rest of the year. That’s why it’s so important to drink enough water throughout the day. Everyone says, ‘you are what you eat’. But what you drink, and how much, is just as important for your overall wellbeing.
Water helps to flush toxins out of your body, aiding in the battle against inflammation. Plus, it helps to keep your joints lubricated and moving freely.
Our top tip: The ‘added’ amounts of nutrients in bottled water is generally too miniscule to make a difference – water from the tap is cheaper and just as good for you.
6. Speak up
If you’re feeling more uncomfortable than usual, let somebody know – whether that’s a family member or your doctor. This way, other people will understand your limitations, and your doctor will be able to suggest things to relieve the symptoms of stiff joints.
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