Despite not quite being the coldest or frostiest of November’s on record, make no mistakes about it (Game of Thrones reference alert!) ‘Winter is coming’ – and as many of you will testify to, the cold, wet weather brings aches, pains and the throb of old injuries front and centre.
Because off all off this we have to pay extra care and really listen to our bodies during these colder months where mobility is sure to be tested due to the more precarious feeling in our bones and the terrain underfoot.
When the temperature starts to plummet we also have to be mindful that our bodies start to restrict the amount of blood that is pumped around which in turn reduces your body temperature. With joints receiving less blood, and the warmth that comes along with it, you can see why we start to stiffen up and, let’s face it, essentially degrade slightly and the aforementioned aches and pains appear more quickly than they are likely to disappear.
Now I think I speak for everybody here when I say that nobody wants to be in pain, however, it is an important sensation that we need to take heed of. Just writing aches and pains off as ‘due to the cold weather’ is actually doing yourself a disservice.
If you think about it like this, the restriction of blood flow and cooler body temperature is making it easier for precarious masked pain to come out. When you think about it like this then you can start to use the cold weather to your advantage – it can be an early warning system for subtle aches that will surely progress if not taken note of and steps aren’t taken to address them.
One of the biggest mistakes people make during the winter months, and it is easy to see why is to fall back into a semi-hibernation state. Crank up the heating, put your feet up and indulge to excess. While this is an important part of the winter months it is even more important to stay as active as you can. If you are restricted to exercising indoors then so be it!
There is still plenty you can do, I’d be happy to steer you in the right direction with a tailor-made plan should you be stuck for inspiration, all you need do is ask!
So, as the winter months face us with a number of challenges here are some of our top tips to see you through until spring, and instead of keeping it solely osteopathic I feel some more general winter health tips should be included too.
Eat the rainbow
You may have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow” before, but as simple as the catchphrase is, it hides some of the science behind why a variety of fruits and vegetables can be both pleasing to the eye and good for your health.
The key thing here is that certain colours of food point to the inclusion of specific nutrients within. For example, green fruits and vegetables (avocado, spinach, broccoli) are high in vitamins K, B, and E. Purple foods, however (red cabbage, grapes) are high in vitamins C and K.
And what do we have to thank for these colourful indicators? It is the phytochemicals found in them. The brighter and richer the colours of the fruits and vegetables also usually indicates that they have a higher concentration of antioxidants, great for maintaining a strong immune system and organ function when the temperatures drop.
Take a look at this fantastic chart from the guys and girls over at chasingdelicious.com which will help you capitalise on the Eat the rainbow approach with total ease, print it off, stick it up and feel better every day!
Massage, massage and more massage
As I mentioned above your blood flow is restricted during the winter period and this causes numerous problems for many. What is one of the most effective ways to ensure good circulation? Massage, full stop.
I appreciate that you can’t always pop out into the clinic for one of my new ‘Relaxation Massage, nor can you rely on a partner or friend to massage you whenever you so desire so there has to be an element of self-massage and it is so easily done there really is no excuse.
Rolling your foot across the top of a tennis or golf ball can boost blood circulation to the feet, massaging your calf muscles, which research suggest act as the ‘hearts of your lower body, can be massaged on foam rollers, by hand or via one of the ever-increasing massage gadgets you’ll find on the high street and online.
Obviously none of these are a substitute for a professional targeted massage but for filling in the blanks they are excellent tools to have in your arsenal of self-preservation. My new relaxation massages combine aromatherapy oils, calming music and dimmed lights to help relax and destress your mind whilst increase blood blow.
Surround yourself with the ones you love
They say ‘you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends’, either way, they are both key components during what can be a lonely season for many.
They provide emotional support which in turn will help you deal with stress and boost your body’s production of essential dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
Not only does this lead to a happier Christmas period but you’ll also benefit from such other benefits that include the promotion of brain growth and the ability to combat cognitive degradation.
Also, it makes it a lot easier to dust off your board game collection and get those dice rolling!
Your bed awaits
With it getting darker earlier your body can start to feel tired earlier so why not just go with it? Studies show that going to bed just an hour earlier can lead to a substantial drop in blood pressure, reducing your overall risk of heart attacks and strokes.
While you are sleeping your body also regenerates so don’t think of it as missing out on the end of Die Hard (or whatever Christmas film you may be watching) and think of it as a time to heal, after all, Die Hard will be there in the morning!
Stable and able
If you go into hibernation mode and ignore our advice on keeping mobile, be aware of this fact – for every day you are not using your muscles you can expect a 0.5-1% loss of mass, this is incredible! If you’re not active then come springtime you’ll find that you are as strong, stable or flexible as you had been just a few short months ago and the difference can be quite shocking.
It is also a lot harder to regain that stability and strength than it is to lose it. Incorporate mini balancing exercises e.g balance on each foot for as long as possible every morning, to ensure the potential for stability degradation is kept to a minimum.
Measures like this will strengthen your leg muscles and improve movement, boost your stability and reduce your risk of falls as you age.
Inflammation plays a major role in cartilage degradation that among other things can cause arthritis. Diet is such an important part of our wellbeing that I felt the need to mention it twice in my top tips.
Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent and reduce current inflammation that may only get worse as your joints suffer in the cold.
Keep your cupboards stocked with foods rich in inflammation-fighting properties such as green tea, garlic, berries, fatty fish, extra-virgin olive oil and spices like turmeric and ginger.
Also, it should be said that switching to a plant-based diet is showing incredible anti-inflammatory benefits, I highly recommend the new Netflix film The Gamechangers. In just 1 hour and 25 minutes, you will be presented with enough hard-hitting science that the thought of eating meat again may quickly disappear.
It’s not impossible to get motivation in winter but it is more difficult. As hard as it can be to get up off the sofa and stay active when your every fibre of your being is telling you to cosy up and stay indoors you will thank yourself for the extra effort required. I hope you enjoyed our top tips and have much to take away from it.
Until next time!