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The question: I want to go to the gym, but the cold weather is making it hard because my arthritis tends to act up. Any advice?

The answer: Instead of aiming to always go to the gym, aim to simply move daily.

That may sound like a semantic distinction, but it's not. It can be hard enough to get motivated to exercise in general, let alone when you have joint pain. And you don't need the added disincentive of shovelling snow and negotiating winter road conditions.

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On days you are feeling good and the weather is co-operating, great, go to the gym. Otherwise, work out at home with dumbbells and a resistance band, and use a pedometer or an app to track your steps. Aim to accumulate a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.

Here's how you can work movement into your day: For example, get up once an hour and walk around your home or office. This gentle movement is key when you have arthritis; it promotes the production of synovial fluid, your body's natural joint lubricant.

Some general conditioning guidelines:

  • 1. Warm up. Walk around your house, dance or do low-impact aerobics for at least 10 minutes. Then move each of your joints. Roll your ankles and wrists. Make circles with your arms. Reach your arms up toward the ceiling. Gently rotate your head side to side, and finally swing each leg side to side like a pendulum.
  • 2. Avoid high-impact activity and listen to your body. If you have joint pain, stop and modify an exercise. Working out should make your body feel better, not worse.
  • 3. Strengthen the muscles around the arthritic joint. If your knees are sore, strengthen your thighs and hips.
  • 4. If one joint is particularly irritated, do range of motion exercises for the joint above and below the one in pain. For example, if your knee is sore, do ankle and hip exercises. This will promote blood flow without stressing the knee.

Some sample exercises to strengthen your muscles:

  • Hip strengthener: Lie on your side, hips stacked. Use your core to stay stable. Engage your bum muscle to lift your top leg up and down 15 times.
  • Thigh strengthener: Lie on your back with a pillow under one knee. Straighten your leg so the back of your knee pushes gently into the pillow. Repeat 15 times

Trainer's tip: When you can get to the gym, use the pool if available. Take an Aquafit class or swim lengths. Water is great for arthritic joints.

Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for over 10 years. Her website is kathleentrotter.com.

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