Stay Active Inside and Outside
Although cold weather may not cause inflammation, it does tend to exacerbate stiffness. Many RA sufferers experience deeper, longer-lasting morning stiffness in the colder months, and that can wreak havoc on your daily schedule. But movement is the best medicine for stiff joints, and there’s plenty you can do to stay active – and maybe even enjoy some of winter’s charms:
- Stretch in a warm place. Changes in weather (and drops in temperature) can expand your ligaments and put pressure on your joints, so when winter storms are moving around, get extra warm for more relief. Stretching is an important part of any RA management plan, but you can reap more benefit when you add heat: use a space heater in a small room for a nice and toasty atmosphere, then move through some slow, deep stretches. Alternatively, soak in the tub in the morning and in the evening, and do your stretches while the water supports your muscles and joints
- Practice yoga. One of the best indoor activities for any level of fitness, yoga is the perfect remedy for a dull, draining day inside. There are all sorts of styles, and an enormous range of poses to target and train every bit of your body. You can find lots of videos online, or else go through your favorite sequence of poses. In fact, doing the same set of poses in each session has proven meditative, restorative, and confidence-building effects.
- Play in the snow. When the biting wind does down, bundle up and head out into the snow. You don’t have to commit to a whole day in the cold; a few minutes of fresh air and distraction may be all you need to get in touch with your inner child and get in touch with nature again. Spending time outside can be both revitalizing and grounding.
Of course, knowing when to rest is an important part of living with RA. Just make sure you can keep your mind busy and happy while your joints rest and recover – keep a stack of books, a journal or a craft corner in plain sight, so you don’t drift into laziness. Boredom is cabin fever’s closest ally.
The more pain, fatigue and stiffness you feel, the more likely you’ll give into your comfy couch rather than reach out to a friend. But separating from the world around you can have lasting negative effects on your mind and body.
If you want to ward off cabin fever, you have to stay social. It’s well known that too much solitude plus physical suffering can equal depression, and recent research suggests that myelin is to blame (or rather, a lack of it).
When people or animals are isolated from others, their brains produce less of this important chemical, and since myelin is necessary for complex thinking and a balanced emotional experience, too little could lead to changes in behavior, or even mental illness.
Interact with the people around you to keep your myelin at a healthy level. You may not feel like a social butterfly, but a friendly hello or short chat with a smiling acquaintance can maintain bonds and leave you with a sense of empathy and purpose.
It may be worth planning a gathering one or twice a week outside of your home: a coffee with a friend or neighbor, a casual book club meeting, or even a formal class that you can commit to for a while. A change of scenery can bring immediate relief, creativity, and newfound motivation to live your days to the fullest.