Cold weather exercise tips for arthritis sufferers

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For Sharon Weber, winter means pain.

"The cold is brutal," Weber says.

Weber was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 45, 9 years ago.

Her pain is mostly in her hands and feet, and the cold makes her joints throb.

"I can basically keep myself warm in the house," she says. "But if I go outside, it's cold. It's cold."

So, Weber has learned she has to be careful when the temperature drops.

"I am very conscious of my body temperature and how cold it is outside," she says. "And what I need to do to protect my joints."

Weber's doctor, internist Mark Cheek at Gwinnett Medical Center, says cold can cause our joints to stiffen.

"That's why arthritis is typically worse in the morning," Dr. Cheek says. "Because, overnight your joints cool down, and you're inactive. So you're going to have pain and stiffness when you first wake up. That's why it's better later in the day. You joints warm up, and you feel better."

Dr. Cheek recommends starting the day with a warm shower to loosen up stiff joints.

And, he says, take is slowly, and wait a bit before you jump into your workout.

"You basically want to ease into your day," he says. "You don't want to jump out of bed and try to exercise."

If you're going to be out in the cold, Cheek says, layer up, especially with loose layers, which Weber always does.

She's also careful to protect her extremities.

"So I just need to make sure my hands are covered, my feet are protected properly with warm socks, and that my core doesn't get too cold," she says.

Before you start your workout, take a few minutes to warm up indoors.

Then, once you're done, stretch your muscles to cool down.

"Also, you want hydrate yourself well," says Dr. Cheek. "When you're dehydrated, your tendons and ligaments get stiff, and that contributes to pain."

Try to drink a couple of 8 ounce glasses of water 2 hours before you work out.

Lower impact workouts like walking or cycling tend to work best for people with arthritis pain.

On days when the weather is just too cold, Dr. Cheek says, take your workout indoors.

"You don't want to do it in the cold," he says. 'That is just going to make it harder."

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