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How to Enjoy the Outdoors When You Have RA

rheumatoid arthritis

Being outside when it’s nice out is something I really enjoy. Since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) seven years ago, the weather has been a huge factor in how I feel from day to day. So, when the climate is right, I like to take advantage of the sights and sounds that the summer and fall months bring.

Of course, certain things can be unattainable because I know my physical limitations. But on my good days, I try and get out and do the most that I can to be a part of the outside world. Here are some tips — so you can, too.

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1. Wear clothes that are practical … but still ‘you’

Before you even step out the door, make sure what you have on will be comfortable for a full day outside, while able to support your needs. Make sure it’s appropriate for the climate, too — no one wants to be too hot or too cold!

I’m a T-shirt and jeans gal, and I like to wear my clothing a bit bigger because of swelling and comfort. I also keep a nice cardigan sweater with me for the cool days. I hurt when I get too cold. While I usually wear sneakers, it’s fun to mix things up sometimes with my funky boots that have a zipper on the side. I also use foot inserts to support my knees and back.

If you’re going trail walking, make sure you wear your braces and some gripping footwear. You’ll also need some good bug spray, some healthy snacks, and some water.

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Also, get yourself a fun but manageable haircut. Just because you have RA, doesn’t mean you can’t create your own style and rock it!

2. Pace yourself

Between the summer and fall months, there are tons of festivals and outdoor markets in my area, and probably in yours, too. It’s nice to get out and taste new foods, look at art, or buy fresh produce. And for me, this is a great way to get exercise and be healthy.

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Make sure you pace yourself. I tend to get in the zone at these type of events from all the stimuli around me, and I forget to sit down and take a 10 minute break. Plan your meds around your outing and wear anything you need that will give your joints more support.

ra outdoors

3. Explore, explore, explore!

With RA, we get stuck at home a lot — or more like in bed — so it’s nice to not see our four walls for a bit. A change of scenery is good for you, especially if you don’t get out much, or if you have long winters, like where I live. My happy place is a cabin in the woods, a beautiful sunset, or a park I’ve never been to.

Get on the internet and find places to explore. The last thing you want to do is not move your joints at all. Once you stop, you may lose it. Whether it’s a few hours away, or just some place down the street, go! Walking is so healthy for you, and beautiful scenery is essential for the soul. Mind and body feed off each other.

On the days when I’m feeling more fatigued but I still want to get out, I find new places to watch the sunset. I started to enjoy taking pictures after I had to stop working. It’s fun to capture beauty, even if it’s in my own backyard.

4. Create beauty in the dirt

I started to enjoy taking pictures after I had to stop working. It’s fun to capture beauty, even if it’s in my own backyard.

Gardening is a relaxing and rewarding way to enjoy the outdoors. I’m not too good at it, but I often wander my neighborhood to view what my fellow neighbors have created. I’ve always wanted to grow my own veggies and spices. I envy those with that knack. To be able to grow and eat right off your own land is amazing.

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I find pleasure in cutting my lawn. I pop in my headphones and listen to some good old 80s alternative on Pandora and cut away. I got myself some sunscreen, a nice big hat, and a pair of sneakers that I don’t mind getting dirty. I also wear my compression gloves. This helps ease the pain of overusing my hands, which are extremely sensitive.

Just make sure you’re prepared for the aftermath. This could include: some local pain patches — Icy Hot or whatever you like, a nice bath, and a comfortable place to relax for a while. Though gardening is mellow, it can do a number on the hands and back, so take your time and listen to your body.

5. Go to the drive-in

The lost art of watching movies has been taken over by Netflix and Hulu. But there’s nothing more fun than watching a movie under the stars, especially if you’re in a convertible. When I was a kid, my mother would take me to the drive-in every weekend. If you have one where you live, definitely go.

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Of course, we can’t binge out on the same snacks that we used to. I usually pack some granola, water, and either Sprite Zero or a thermos of herbal tea, depending on the weather. I’ve also started making my own popcorn at home without all the butter and other stuff packaged kinds put on it. Much healthier!

To prepare for this, make sure you wear comfy clothing and bring a few pillows. I tend to get stiff if I’m sitting for long periods of time, so I bring my body pillow with me. I’m also able to get out of the car and stretch without interfering with other patrons, like in a normal theater. It’s a pretty cool way to enjoy being outside while watching a movie.

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6. Beach fun

Water is amazing for the joints. I lived five minutes from the ocean for 14 years of my life. During the summer, we would go down there with our body boards and play in the waves. During the fall, we had bonfires and roasted marshmallows while listening to the waves crash in.

Being around water is so relaxing, whether you’re in it or just listening to it. I bought a pair of beach shoes to protect my feet — I have arthritic toes so I like to protect them any way I can, regardless if I’m in sand or in the water. It’s also nice to take a walk along the beach at the start or end of the day.

For a day at the beach, pack yourself a good pair of shoes, a jacket, and some fun snacks. Make sure if it’s sunny you put on sunscreen and wear a hat. I’ve also invested in glasses that get dark when I go outside. My RA has affected my eyes, so I need to protect what’s left of them. Sunglasses and sunscreen are always important when venturing outside.

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7. Theatre in the park

Most cities offer some sort of theatrical productions in local parks, especially during the summer. This has been a favorite of mine for many years.

Getting a nice spot by the stage is key for me, since my eyes are so bad. I usually pack a lot of pillows, a comfy chair, some healthy snacks, and drinks for the show. My city offers free shows every week until the end of the summer. There’s also free classical music shows in the fall at other locations. What a great way to spend an evening!

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Free, comforting entertainment surrounded by the rest of the city while being outside is amazing. It’s nice to enjoy entertainment without being in a stuffy bar or nightclub. It reminds me that I’m still a part of society. I joined an online site that updates me when there’s local events like this to attend.

I always make sure I plan my meds accordingly and I’m comfortable for the night. If there’s only lawn seating, I’ll bring my own chair and pillows, and maybe some topical pain cream. I usually have someone go with me since I can’t see well at night. I’m always prepared for if I’ll be sitting for long periods of time. I’ll also do some stretches before and during the show so I’m not super stiff by the time it’s over.

Bottom line

RA doesn’t have to keep you trapped in the house. You shouldn’t avoid doing the things you love — with a little modification for your needs, anything is possible! Whether you’re into fitness, art, food, or just relaxing on your front porch, as long as you’re prepared for your journey you can have an enjoyable time being outside in the world. You can live.


Gina Mara

Gina Mara was diagnosed with RA in 2010. She enjoys hockey and is a contributor to CreakyJoints. Connect with her on Twitter @ginasabres.

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