We all like to feel fitter, slimmer and more energised in the summer, arthritis or not. In this kit are simple tips to help achieve just that!
Sunshine and blue skies can raise smiles and spirits but summer can also raise a few challenges if you have arthritis. It can be hard enough just dealing with the rising temperature, never mind having to contend with revealing summer fashions, the agony of strappy footwear or the pressure to have the perfect beach-ready body. Instagram, with it’s wall-to-wall summer fashion photos, beach poses and crash-diet bragging posts, doesn’t help either!
Understandably, you might not be feeling quite so confident about your body, and exercise might feel like the last thing you want to do if you suffer from fatigue or just feel sore. The whole body-conscious thing in the summer could be quite overwhelming. But there is good news – there are some very achievable ways to feel fitter and ooze confidence in the summer – and more importantly, keep it going all year round.
The key is to set realistic nutrition and fitness goals, to treat any new healthy eating or exercise plan as a long-term lifestyle shift rather than a crash diet for the beach, and to mix in a big dollop of self-love.
You don’t need to be model thin to look beautiful in the summer, after all; a confident smile can set off a summer dress like nothing else.
So here are some simple and achievable healthy eating and exercise tips for you to follow, this summer and beyond.
Sensible Summer eating
Summer foods – the good
If you’re trying to nail that healthy weight, summer is a good time to start. Salads and fruit and light meals are much more appealing in the summer than in the depths of winter when you just want to dive into a vat of lasagne. Our advice: experiment with salads to make them more interesting. Green leaves are always good, but add in some nuts and seeds, tomatoes, herbs, olives, whatever you fancy. A bit of lower-fat cheese and a dressing that’s not too oily or fatty will make flavours zing.
How to make my favourite Superfood Salad
Here’s one of my favourite summer salads – Superfood Salad: Fill a salad bowl with spinach, watercress and rocket leaves. Add a dozen plum cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, along with a couple of inches of sliced cucumber, as much red onion as you like, olives if you want, and around 50g of crumbled or chopped feta cheese. Dress with a splash of olive oil and a dessert spoon of balsamic vinegar (or more, depending on your tastes). Sometime I throw a bit of basil in if I’ve got some handy. It’s delicious, fills you up and it’s very low-calorie.
More healthy summer recipes
The BBC Good Food site has a whole bunch of healthy summer recipes which will tingle your tastebuds.
If you fancy being a bit more daring, here are some interesting looking summer recipes from Rose Lloyd Owen.
The Cooking Light website has some good low-fat recipes including these healthy summer salads.
The Two Peas and their Pod website is also great on simple and healthy recipes – I challenge you to find a salad here you wouldn’t want to eat.
The Huffington Post has put together a collection of summer salad recipes here which are definitely worth a look.
Experiment with fruit too – now is the time to find your nearest market and see what weird and wonderful tropical fruit you can seek out. Passion fruit, acai, star fruit, papaya and just good old English strawberries, raspberries and loganberries make eating fruit a lot more exciting. Just remember though that fruit is high in natural sugar so it’s best not to make up all your five-a-day (or seven-a-day, or nineteen-a-day, or whatever it’s supposed to be now) out of fruit.
Summer foods – the not-so-good
Summer also brings with it a lot of hidden dangers, food-wise. There are those barbecue burgers and sausages, which somehow manage to disappear very quickly. See if you can seek out the chicken instead… Then there are dips, which always emerge at this time of year. Beware of the dips – hummus may taste healthy, and it is, but it’s also very high in calories. So is guacamole, and those delicious sour cream and chive dips. If you can’t resist the chips and dips, go for the tomato salsa – it’s the lesser of the evils.
Also lurking at barbecues and summer parties is usually that old friend, the potato salad. Smothered in mayonnaise and oozing coronary heart disease. Then there’s the obvious suspect in the summer – ice cream. Very hard to resist, especially during a hot summer. If you are trying to lose weight or eat healthily, you will have to discover a love of ice-lollies instead. Top tip: Soleros, with their fruity exterior and creamy inside, taste a lot like ice cream but they have fewer than 100 calories per lolly; compare that to a Double Chocolate Magnum with 370 calories.
Summer drinks can be bad news too – fruit juice has been getting a really bad press lately as it’s full of natural sugar and doesn’t fill you up like an actual piece of fruit would. It’s also tempting to down lashings of cold Coke or lemonade in the summer – again, full of sugar. If you are looking for a summer tipple gin and slimline tonic, with a chunk of lime, tastes GREAT in the summer and it’s one of the lowest calorie alcoholic drinks around. Although watch out for the dangers of mixing alcohol and certain medications. In fact why not kill two birds with one stone and grab yourself a mocktail? Popsugar has some great recipes to try, perfect for summer evenings.
The truth about diets and arthritis
There is a lot of conflicting evidence, theories and downright myths about arthritis and diets. Dr Aine O’Connor of the British Nutrition Foundation recently carried out a review of the role of diet in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. She says the evidence suggests that a ‘healthy, balanced diet’ can lead to positive changes in arthritis symptoms.
Dr O’Connor says: “Overall, dietary advice for rheumatoid arthritis patients should be focused on achieving current dietary recommendations as outlined by the UK’s national food guide, the eatwell guide as it will provide the right balance of nutrients needed for health.”
She adds: “Given that RA patients are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, other dietary tips include reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet to benefit heart health and shifting the balance of PUFAs (Polyunsaturated fatty acids) towards n-3 fatty acids (rather than n-6 fatty acids).” That’s more fish oil and less plant oil, if you’re wondering. So – just your basic healthy eating then.
But what about if you want to lose weight? Well, we’re not going to provide you with a magic 14-day beach body diet here. That’s not helpful. What you need is some small changes, which are sustainable beyond the summer.
If you want to lose weight, the myfitnesspal app or something similar is a good way to start. It lets you see how many calories you’re consuming, and set a realistic target weight and calorie limit for each day. You’ll soon get to know where your ‘wasted’ calories are going. Even if you can’t stick rigidly to the plan, it will make you more aware of what you’re eating.
Kickstart an exercise plan this Summer
Summer is a terrific time to get outdoors and active. Walking, cycling and swimming are all great fun when the weather’s good. Walking is a fine place to start. Get out there and discover the great British outdoors.
Canal paths, country trails, coastal paths – they’re all beautiful at this time of year. You can go at your own pace, and however far you go, you’re beating the people who are sitting at home on the sofa.
If you find walking difficult, try using a step-counter and increase your base level of activity gradually. You can download step-counter apps to your phone; here’s an Android step-counter and an Apple step-counter.
Running and arthritis
Running and arthritis may not appear to be the best combination but some have found a way to make it work for them. Kate Gardiner, 33, was diagnosed with arthritis in 2005 but started off running gently and built up to complete two marathons last year. “I started running slowly with a couch to 5k programme,” she says. “I did this on a treadmill to reduce the impact on my joints and ran very slowly. I have always found running to be less painful than walking!” Find out more about Couch To 5k.
The importance of good footwear
The right footwear for running and walking are essential though – make sure you get fitted properly for some trainers. Kate says: “The biggest absolute ‘must have’ which can make or break the whole running thing is to get the right trainers. I’ve found maximum cushioning and neutral shoes help my arthritic ankles and knees to work in a way that suits me most and so allows me to run with as little pain as possible.” This means you need to go to a proper running shop – something like Sweatshop, Run And Become, or Up and Running.
Cycling and arthritis
Cycling suits some people because it’s not weight-bearing, so it can be easier on the joints. You don’t have to be Bradley Wiggins to take up cycling – just pottering about around country parks with the kids on your bikes will help with strength and fitness. Make sure you get a bike that’s suitable for what you want to do with it – a shiny super-fast road bike won’t be much good on a canal path. Also, make sure you get fitted properly for your bike – the wrong frame size or the wrong handlebar height can exacerbate any back or neck pain you may have. Find out more information about cycling for beginners.
Swimming and arthritis
Swimming is fantastic exercise for pretty much everyone – and it can be tailored to your individual needs. So if you have dodgy knees, and cycling and running are out, there are exercises you can do in the pool which don’t involve using your legs at all, but build arm muscles and stomach muscles very nicely. All you need is something called a pull buoy, which costs about £6 and is a little float you can wedge between your legs. There are other gadgets you can get for the pool – or consider a swim aerobics class, which is less stressful on the body than conventional aerobics. Or swim walking – the Arthritis Foundation has some information about swim walking here.
Join a group
If individual exercise isn’t for you – some people find it boring – then look around for groups to join. Don’t be intimidated and think that everyone who takes part in team sports is really good at them. There are plenty of groups out there for mixed (or zero!) ability – whether it’s a gang of mums playing netball, a beginners’ rounders team or a village cricket team.
Set yourself up for success
Don’t launch straight into an Insanity work-out programme. You may do yourself some real damage! The same goes for a 30-day Ab Challenge. In fact, anything that sounds unrealistic. Look ahead a few days into the challenge and see if it still sounds do-able. What you don’t want is to set yourself up for failure. Instead, create your own strength and fitness programme – one you know you can stick to. Draw yourself a chart, if necessary. There are tools online which can help you: Fitness programme tools
And don’t be afraid to ask for help – personal trainers and sports physios are no longer restricted to Hollywood stars. There are loads of them out there and they don’t cost a fortune for a few consultations and a fitness programme to suit you. Kate says: “A sports physio has devised some strengthening exercises to help me stay strong and these have been invaluable in keeping me on the road.”
Clothes and confidence
As you start to get stronger, and fitter, even if it’s only a small change, you will get more confident in your clothes (and out of them, nudge nudge).
Remember, it’s not all about the scales – look at dress sizes and body measurements; and how you feel. If you’ve never done much exercise before, you may find that as you build muscle mass, your weight plateaus or even goes up (yes, it is possible to gain weight while training for a marathon!).
If there are areas of your body that you don’t like so much, whether it’s swollen knees or flabby arms, it’s a lot easier to conceal these if you DO like other areas of your body. Focus on the positive. If you hate your knees, wear capris and a vest. If you hate your arms but have cracking legs, wear short shorts and tops with sleeves.
If you’re worried about how you look when you exercise – well, you’re not alone. Not many people look good when they’re all hot and sweaty, James Rodriguez and Rafa Nadal being a few honourable exceptions. I personally have calf problems – so I run in knee-high compression socks. I may look like an idiot, but after a while, you stop caring. Particularly when you see the benefits to your own body outweigh a few sniggers from morons.
Don't forget to rest
Rest is the most important thing for any athlete, and we’re all athletes in our own way. Kate Gardiner, 33, was diagnosed with arthritis in 2005 but started off running gently and built up to complete two marathons last year. Kate says: “Periods of activity followed by periods of absolute rest (bed normally) help. I do have pain and I do need medication to help that, but exercise and losing four stones has changed the pain from a seizing up, searing burn to a more manageable throb!
“I successfully completed two marathons last year (London and then six weeks later Edinburgh). I found the training tough through the winter, with my biggest issues being the flu-like mini flares that I’d experience after every long run. However resting and eating well got me through.
“I also found that by the end of the training I could run further before the symptoms kicked in. I did find that listening to my body was THE most important thing but anything is possible if you set your mind to it!”