Summer is here, which means it’s time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. Here are some of our top picks for arthritis-friendly summer activities and tips for staying cool.
Preparing for movement
Before starting any new exercise program, be sure to speak with your doctor to make sure it is appropriate for you. Remember to warm up before any exercise to loosen your muscles and pace yourself to reduce stiffness the next day. Take breaks when needed and limit the amount of time you spend in any one position. Ensuring proper joint alignment and modifying your activities in order to avoid awkward positions – for instance, when gardening – can help you continue to do the things you love more comfortably.
Walking is one of the best activities you can do to remain physically active while enjoying the outdoors. If you’ve been sedentary these past months, start with short distances and challenge yourself to spend a little more time walking each week to gradually build up your strength and stamina. Don’t forget to bring a water bottle with you, or plan water stops along your route.
Choosing the right footwear can help ensure you have the proper support while walking and reduce pain in your feet, legs or hips. If balance is a concern, you might want to consider using an assistive device such as a cane or a rollator. The use of walking poles has become quite popular as they can help with balance, reduce limping, offload the lower extremity joints and engage muscles of the arms and legs to provide a greater cardio workout. Learn how to use walking poles in our resource on low-load activities for osteoarthritis.
Cycling is another great low-impact activity for arthritis. Because your weight is supported on a seat, cycling takes some of the load off your lower body as you exercise, so you can stay active with less discomfort. Different types of outdoor and indoor stationary bikes are available depending on your needs, including upright, recumbent and handcycles. To learn more about how to set up your bike for the right support, visit the Cycling section of our resource on low-load activities for osteoarthritis.
Water therapy – also called pool therapy, aqua therapy or hydrotherapy – provides an ideal environment for people with arthritis to exercise because the buoyant force of water counteracts the downward pull of gravity, reducing the weight placed on the joints. In addition to being a fun way to cool off on hot days, swimming and aquatic physical activities like water aerobics are a terrific form of low-impact exercise that improves muscle strength and tone and can benefit heart health by boosting endurance. Visit our article on water therapy and arthritis to learn more about the benefits of water-based exercise.
Yoga and Tai Chi
Yoga and tai chi are both low-impact practices that are well-suited to practice outdoors and can help with range of motion, muscle strengthening, stability and balance.
Sometimes referred to as “moving meditation,” Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese mind-body practice that focuses on performing slow, controlled movements with an attention to your breath. The movements of Tai Chi are gentle, graceful and a safe way to relieve arthritis pain and gain balance, strength and flexibility. Tai Chi may also help improve mood and promote relaxation and mental well-being. Tai Chi does not require special equipment and is low- to no-cost, making it accessible to most people. Your local community centre may offer programs, or you can find free videos online such as our Tai Chi to help arthritis.
Many people think of yoga as complicated poses that require considerable strength and balance. In fact, beginner yoga classes offer simple, gentle movements that gradually build strength, balance and flexibility, all of which can be especially beneficial for people with arthritis. Introductory or gentle yoga classes are widely available at health clubs and community centres, and private yoga studios may offer specialized classes for seniors or people with arthritis or other mobility issues. Our website features several yoga for arthritis videos, such as this standing and seated Warrior series with certified yoga instructor for arthritis Julia McNally (The RA Yogi).
The psychological, spiritual and physical benefits that come from spending time in nature have long been acknowledged and practiced by many cultures around the world. Research suggests that forest therapy or “forest bathing” may have a positive impact on pain and depression symptoms, though further study is needed. Forest therapy is more than just a walk in the woods, however, and can involve guided activities and reflection. Learn more about this practice and its potential benefits by visiting our article on What is forest therapy?
Staying cool in the heat
When the temperature goes up, being active outdoors can be more challenging. You may not be able to exercise as long or as hard as usual in very hot weather, and it's important to listen to your body and take frequent breaks in the shade. Stay hydrated before, during and after physical activity. Wear loose, light-colored, lightweight clothing, wear sunscreen and protect yourself from the sun with sunglasses, a hat or visor. On days with high heat, humidity, environmental allergens or rain, choose indoor activities to help you stay active. You can do stretching activities at home, walk around an indoor mall, or find an indoor pool near you.
Enjoy an active summer!