Eight ways to better mornings

An older man standing at a window drawing back the curtains.

Living with a condition like arthritis can make it hard to get going in the morning, as stiff joints take time to loosen up. These tips will help you to rise and shine.

1. Try gentle stretching

Heat, regular movement and strengthening the muscles around the joints are key to reducing the pain of arthritis, no matter what time of day it is, says physiotherapist Andy Byrne (pallmallmedical.co.uk). “However, you can make mornings better by gently warming up your body before you even get out of bed,” he says. 

“There’s no benefit in forcing things to move – instead, try to coax joints into moving gently, but repeatedly. Try the following stretches:

  • Your knees: slowly bend and straighten each knee 15 times
  • Your hips: gently pull your knees towards your chest and lower 15 times
  • Your back: lie with your knees bent up and feet on the bed, roll your knees from side to side for a minute. If you introduce these exercises at night, too, you’ll find that being as mobile as possible before you go to sleep will make mornings easier,” he adds.

2. Turn up the heat

Once you’re up, have a warm shower or bath, or apply hot pads to very sore joints. “Any kind of heat is great for arthritis,” confirms Byrne. “Heat pads, hot-water bottles, warm showers and baths all help improve circulation, relax the muscles and soothe the nervous system, which reduces pain.”

3. Get moving

It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but the stronger the muscles around your joints are, the better supported (and less painful) they will be. Research consistently shows exercise to be beneficial for people living with arthritis, as it can help strengthen your heart, improve your flexibility and mobility, and put you in a better mood.

The best form of exercise is the one you’ll do, so don’t be afraid to try something different in your quest to move more. If you can manage it, going to an exercise class regularly can be a great way to make new friends, too – there’s nothing to lose!

4…and put your best foot forward

I’m often asked by patients what they can do to help them lose weight, get their blood pressure down and help them feel a bit happier. My answer is always the same – go for a walk!

GP Ron McCulloch

A study by Public Health England found that walking reduces the risk of serious health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer (of the breast and colon), Alzheimer’s and depression by between 20 to 60 per cent. Walking also improves mood and quality of sleep, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and can help to reduce anxiety.

“I do 20 minutes every day without fail,” says Dr McCulloch. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

5. Dress smart

Arranging your clothes for the morning the night before can help you get dressed with minimal pain and discomfort, says Katie Ellis, director of The Able Label

“Choosing slip-over and zip-up tops, or Velcro fastenings over fiddly buttons, will help if you have stiff fingers, and it can help to lay items out before putting them on – for example, fully open a wrap skirt onto a chair, sit back into the skirt, wrap and fasten,” she says. “You can also choose coats with slippery linings to make it easier to get them on and off,” she adds.

6. Practise gratitude

You can do this at any time, but doing it first thing helps set up a positive mindset for the rest of the day, says health psychologist Dr Meg Arroll. "Think of three separate things to be grateful for – they only need to be small, but it puts us in an appreciative mindset for where we are in our lives now rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.

"It can be hard to focus on the positives when you have a long-term health condition, but it helps you appreciate the good days and keep the bad ones  in perspective."

7. Keep your morning routine the same

Doing the same thing in the same order every day gives consistency and reduces stress – as humans, we find unpredictability stressful. “I leave the curtains open so that I wake up naturally as the day breaks, do my stretching exercises while I’m still in bed, and then put my dressing gown and slippers on and have a cup of tea in the garden before tackling the day ahead,” says June Hazeltine, 59, who has rheumatoid arthritis.

“It wakes up my body and calms my mind. Some days are better than others, but I’ve learned over time that the bad days are just that – days – and they do pass.”

8 Finally…prioritise sleep

To be at your best for the day ahead, you need to prioritise sleep. Whether that means going to bed earlier, or staying in bed later if you’re able to, your body will thank you for it.

“If you push your body when you’re already fatigued, you’re adding more stress and not allowing yourself time to recover,” says Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of the Sleep School. “Remember, being sleep-deprived makes you more susceptible to coughs and colds, too. So, while it’s great to have a morning routine that sets you up for a positive day ahead, don’t try to push through if you’re not getting the rest you need. There’s no shame in prioritising sleep.”