If you are like me, you wait all year for summer. The warm weather and longer daylight hours are still here and as any Clevelander knows, the short window of opportunity to get in our summer activities will soon be closing.
No matter the outdoor activity you’re drawn to – boating, running, tennis or gardening – you’re probably trying to get out and enjoy the weather before the dreaded Cleveland winter arrives.
But for some, it’s not so easy.
For those suffering with arthritis, getting out can be painful and difficult. About 54.5 million people (roughly one-third of U.S. adults) suffer from arthritis. And about two-thirds of those individuals report that their symptoms are weather-sensitive.
The main culprit for this weather-sensitivity? Hot and humid weather, something Cleveland has more than its share of. Heat and humidity make many people’s joints feel stiff and painful. The main reason for these aggravated symptoms is the increased barometric pressure we experience during the summer. Higher pressure causes the structures in the joint to expand, which means more pain in an already sensitive spot.
A natural reaction to these symptoms is to stay inside, in air conditioning, and avoid the heat, but this is counterproductive. Getting out and being active helps your joints feel better. Exercise helps alleviate the symptoms of arthritis by:
• Increasing the blood flow to the joints, which promotes healing and healthy cartilage.
• Strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint, which can help restore the normal function of, and protect, the joint.
• Aiding weight loss, which helps to relieve pain and inflammation in the joints.
Low-impact aerobic exercises are best. Luckily, there are many such summer activities: walking, biking and gardening. Dying to get into the pool before it closes? Go for it. Swimming and deep-water running provide great exercise for aching joints without the added pressure of land-based exercises. Prefer to stay on land? Consider tai chi, which can decrease pain, help physical function and improve balance to reduce falls. What to avoid? High-impact exercises such as running and jumping.
Regular exercise is important. Try to get about 30 minutes most days of the week. This can be broken up into smaller sessions if needed. And remember to take care of those joints while you exercise. Make sure you wear shoes with good support like sneakers. If you have pain while walking, you may benefit from a knee brace such as a neoprene sleeve. If you feel severe pain, stop the activity and talk to your doctor. For those with severe arthritis or who’ve had a joint replacement in the past, it is best to talk to your doctor before starting a regular exercise routine. And remember to drink lots of water.
On that note, summer is the perfect time for an arthritis-friendly diet. Whether you are growing them in your garden or buying them at your local farmer’s market, summer’s plentiful selection of fruits and vegetables are excellent for aching joints. Foods that have been found to be especially helpful include blueberries and spinach. If spinach isn’t your thing, remember to aim for a Mediterranean diet, high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. It helps promote weight loss and decreases inflammation, which will assist with arthritis pain.
Don’t let the heat and humidity prevent you from getting outside and enjoying Cleveland’s summer. With some thoughtful choices, you can keep your joints and spirits in top shape.
Dr. Elisheva Weinberger is a specialist in rheumatology at The MetroHealth System. She sees patients in Beachwood, Cleveland Heights and at the system’s main campus in Cleveland.