6 Ways to Keep Your Bones, Joints, and Muscles in Shape During Winter

Freezing temps, less sunshine, and less activity are a recipe for stiff joints this time of year. Stay limber (and warm!) with these tips for simple muscle upkeep and diet.

6 Ways to Keep Your Bones, Joints, and Muscles in Shape During Winter

Unlike, say, peanut butter and jelly, cold weather and stiff joints are absolutely not better together.  

And, if your joints seem to freeze with the temps each winter, it’s important to take care of your bones and muscles as well. Here are 6 ways to keep your joints, bones and muscles in shape when things turn frosty.

1. Get The Blood Flowing

One of the keys to more energized muscles and joints is good circulation, and the cold doesn’t help us on that front. When the body gets cold, circulation becomes restricted so the blood remains around the heart and vital organs, making it harder for blood to reach the peripheral areas of the body. (Hello, numb hands, legs, and feet!) Thus, getting the blood flowing throughout the body is especially important during the winter. While hibernating at home or not venturing outside of the office all day is tempting, being sedentary won’t help your joints. 

One way to increase activity is by doing at least a 20 to 30 minute brisk walk each day. Not only does brisk walking get the blood flowing, but research shows it can help protect against hip fractures. A 2002 study of nurses found that brisk walking four hours a week gave them a 41% lower risk of hip fractures, compared to walking less than an hour a week. Notably, more time spent standing was also independently associated with lower risks. So, if you plan on taking up some brisk walking this winter, just make sure your shoes have good traction.  

2. Do Weight-Bearing Activities and Resistance Exercise

Let’s be real — there are so many excuses for not exercising during the winter. One common myth is that exercise itself causes joint pain or arthritis, but studies show that it’s hugely beneficial to maintaining bone strength and easing joint stiffness. In fact, a 2005 British research study confirmed that walking and muscle-strengthening exercises are a safe and effective treatment for people with osteoarthritis in the knee.

So, what’s the best type of exercise to keep your joints in shape? Experts recommend both weight-bearing activities and resistance training. Resistance training, like lifting weights at least twice a week, is great for stimulating bones in your wrist, arms, and lower body. Weight-bearing exercise, where the body literally bears its weight against gravity, puts pressure on your bones, which helps increase bone density. For example, while doing downward dog in yoga, your body has to work and balance to hold itself up. On the contrary, activities like swimming and biking aren’t weight-bearing exercises. Trust us, your body will thank you for incorporating weight bearing activities into your lifestyle, like hiking, Zumba, jumping rope, or simply taking the stairs instead of the escalator.

A word on exercise: As long as you don’t have fractured bones or acute joint injuries, an exercise program that is within your limits and uses correct techniques should be beneficial for you. Consult a knowledgeable exercise specialist on safe muscle strengthening exercise and a stretching program for your needs.'

3.  Take the Heat

 One approach to help your muscles brave the cold (that also requires less effort than going to the gym) is embracing the age-old power of heat therapy. Soaking in a hot bath or taking a steamy shower will not only relax your mind but can also loosen up stiff muscles, allowing for better range of motion. Here’s the science behind it: Heat causes blood vessels to expand, allowing more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to be delivered to the injured tissues, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The more blood circulation to stiff joints, the better!

Take this time (no more than 20 minutes) to stretch your muscles, ideally in the morning or before a workout. Warming up your muscles this way will help increase your range of motion and keep your muscles happy when you have to brave the cold. Studies show that patients with arthritis and fibromyalgia who participated in warm water exercise programs two or three times a week could move around better and had as much as 40 percent less pain.

However, if you have an acute injury or swollen joints, heat may not be the answer for you. Cold treatment is likely better for extreme inflammation, swelling, and redness, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Consult a doctor if you are treating an injury. 

4. Don’t Forget Magnesium!

Magnesium is crucial to keep you going through the winter months like a well-oiled machine for a plethora of reasons. First off, many people don’t know how important magnesium is for proper circulation and a proper functioning musculoskeletal system. If you’re part of the 50 to 80 percent of Americans who don’t get enough magnesium from their diet, you may consider investing in an excellent magnesium supplement formula.

Another factor is that magnesium works in-tandem with calcium and vitamin D, which are essential to support bone and muscle health. Many people don’t know that the body can’t absorb calcium without magnesium, and magnesium is often neglected. Because calcium constricts while magnesium relaxes, too much calcium could very likely be the culprit for tense, overly tight muscles. That’s why many people take magnesium after a workout to reduce muscle soreness, or soak in bath salts with magnesium to ease tight muscles.  

What’s more, magnesium is also needed for metabolizing vitamin D. Plus, we need vitamin D to help regulate calcium absorption for healthy bones. It all comes back to magnesium!

Other tips for making sure you’re getting the nutrients you need to support health joints and bones are to add more magnesium and calcium rich foods into your diet. To get more magnesium from your diet, look to eat more dark green vegetables, beans, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, and wholegrain cereals. For calcium, look for Greek yogurt, sesame seeds, broccoli, cabbage, cheese, spinach, tofu, and kale. Lastly, avoid too much caffeine, alcohol and stress, a triple threat that depletes your body’s magnesium and calcium levels. 

5.  Supplement For the Lack of Sunshine

Did you know 50 to 90% of vitamin D is produced by sunshine exposure of skin sunshine exposure of skin? So, when the days are shorter, it’s less likely that you’re getting enough of the famous “sunshine vitamin.” An estimated billion people are vitamin D deficient, and not getting enough vitamin D from diet or environment can lead to a snowball effect of health symptoms, like tiredness, muscle weakness, bone pain, and even depression. Vitamin D is essential for bone health, because the body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. It’s crucial for ensuring bone and muscle health; even a moderate vitamin D deficiency worsens knee and hip pain in elderly people, according to a 2013 study. If you already are taking vitamin D, know that it is absorbed better by the body when consumed with foods that contain some fat.

6.  Dive Into Omega-3

 If the Tin Man knew that he could have eaten more fish to oil up his joints instead of hobbling around with an oil can, he could’ve traveled much lighter. Experts recommend eating fish at least twice a week to reap the benefits of Omega-3, which have been shown to reduce joint pain and stiffness. Foods rich in omega-3 include salmon, mackerel, egg yolks, caviar, cod-liver oil, flax-seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. Though fish and nuts are the most common sources of Omega 3, there are more overlooked nutrients that support joint health too. If maintaining a diet rich in Omega-3 is difficult for you, consider taking fish oil supplements right before a meal.

Nothing is worse than stiff, achy joints except for doing nothing to help your stiff, achy joints. In a time when so many people work 9-to-5 desk jobs, taking steps to maintain healthy joints and prevent problems is even more important. While winter is a better time than any other to start, incorporating these tips into your daily lifestyle will help your joints stay in it for the long haul. 

Sasha Levin Purity Lifestyle Writer

Sasha Levin Purity Lifestyle Writer

Sasha Levin is a freelance writer and health enthusiast currently based in New York. When she's not searching for the latest lifestyle hacks and beauty trends, she's probably hiking, doing yoga, drinking wine—or a combination of all of the above. Keep up with her on Instagram @sashalev_ or connect with her on LinkedIn.