As the nights have become longer and the temperature drops, it’s very easy to forgo the workouts and focus instead on carb-loaded comforts and comfy clothes with elasticated waistbands. The cycle of having reduced physical activity, and less motivation and inspiration to feel your best in the winter, taking weeks or months to bounce back when the days warm up again – doesn’t have to be inevitable and the difference can be wonderful! You’re probably already aware that January is often assumed to be the gloomiest month of the year. So… fancy a challenge that can only pay off and make some small changes before it gets to that? Here are some simple tips and tricks you may find useful.
Get some sun
Get out into the sunlight to naturally get your boost of vitamin D (which we need UV light to produce)! Just step outside, for any reason you can think of. You only need 10–30 minutes of sunlight a few times a week – around midday when the sun is highest is the best time. You can get some vitamin D through foods like meat, fish, and eggs – some foods like cereals and orange juice are also fortified with vitamin D. You can also go for a high quality vitamin D supplement. Look for supplements that specifically contain vitamin D3.
Choose the right shoes
Ready to put your best foot forward? Minimise the risk of slips and falls by using the right footwear. With ice and possibly snow covering the ground, the right winter boots will not only keep your feet warm and dry, but will have the right traction to help you stay upright and reduce the chance of jarring muscles trying to stay upright. If you can, use a pair of shoes or boots that have anti-slip on the outer sole (the part that touches the ground) and allow you to balance when walking. You can also improvise and make the best of the footwear you already have by using other possible alternatives—like ice grips. It’s a great way to change a shoe into more winter-geared footwear. Ice grips can be worn on the outside of a shoe to give extra traction and grip.
Before going outside to exercise in the cold weather, make sure your body is prepared. When there’s a big drop in temperature outside, your body will be working overtime to produce heat with your heart doing the majority of the work to get your blood flowing. To help your heart out and warm up your muscles, you can engage in some light warm-up exercises in the comfort of your home before going outside. This can include anything from stretches to a few simple movements to increase your heart rate a little. For instance, walking around the house for 5 to 10 minutes, doing jumping jacks or jogging in place. Great stretches should include calves and hamstrings as these are the two muscle areas that are often affected by strains and pulls in the winter.
1. To stretch out calves, stand on the bottom step of your stairs or other step/small sturdy box. Allow your heels to come off the edge of the step and drop down so you’re standing in the balls of your feet only. You can hold the stretch with your knees straight (to stretch the Gastrocnemius) or slightly bent (the Soleus muscle). Hold the pose for 10-15 seconds. You can do this with both feet at the same time, or one foot at a time holding the stretch and then completing on the opposite foot.
2. To stretch out your hamstrings, take a large step forward with one leg, with your knee slightly bent on the front leg and the back leg keeping the knee extended. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds and keep your balance. When you’re ready, switch and do the same with the other leg. You should feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
3. Standing torso rotations to get your trunk moving. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and gently twist the upper body from side to side. Do this until your upper body feels loose.
When venturing outside in winter, your body needs help to maintain its warmth. Dressing in layers will provide the protection from the cold your body needs. If you can, make your first layer that is closest to the skin a thin top that can wick away moisture. The next layer can be a little bit heavier to help keep the heat in—like a fleece. Your final layer can then be a coat or jacket. Throw on a pair of gloves and a hat to cover your extremities, as they will often lose heat the fastest!
Diet and nutrition are hugely important to help manage and often improve a huge list of the conditions treated by medical and healthcare professionals. Could you add a little more protein and collagen into your diet, such as meat, fish, tofu, eggs or beans? Choose your favourite fruit and veg (maybe try something new!) and add them to your regular meals. Frozen berries heated with porridge or served with chilled yoghurt, chopped orange or red grapes added to salad, omega-3 rich foods such as oils, nuts and seeds sprinkled on top (my favourite is a good quality peanut butter in porridge-game changer!). Go for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables that satisfy with slower released sugars, starches and fibres.
Stay active indoors
Is it raining outside and you don’t have the time (or inclination) to do a workout? Try these easy home exercises.
- Sitting on a chair, without hands if possible, feet shoulder width apart, stand up tall then sit back down slowly and repeat 10-30 times. Have a short rest and if manageable, repeat for another set or two.
- Stairs nearby? Going up and down them for the length of your favourite song or while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil will temporarily increase your heart rate, release endorphins and help to strengthen the muscles and bones in your hips, knees and ankles.
Ten minutes of activity that makes you breathe moderately harder can help to: burn 3-6 times more energy, manage blood sugar levels, lower your risk of diabetes and pre-diabetes, improve your fitness, mood and focus – a powerful tool that’s free!
Get good quality sleep
We know good sleep is vital to health, yet many people regularly don’t get the rest they need. Going to and getting out of bed at a similar time every day (including weekends), having fresh sheets, a comfortable mattress (or mattress topper!), having as dark a room as possible and not looking at a screen lit with blue light (thank you ‘Night Shift Mode’ in mobile phone settings) are simple changes you can try. Also, consider skipping that nightcap – did you know that drinking more than 1-2 servings of alcohol per day decreases sleep quality by up to 39%? With one serving being equal to one pint of 5% beer or 150ml of wine, it’s no wonder good sleep and alcohol rarely go hand in hand.
Avoid winter illnesses
If you can – consider having a flu jab. It’s a fallacy that flu jabs give you flu as they don’t contain live viruses, therefore if you do get the flu after the vaccine, symptoms are likely to be milder and short lived.
Being cold doesn’t give us a cold – it’s just that cold weather doesn’t tend to kill off viruses as well as hot weather. Before someone starts showing cold symptoms, they can spread the virus for a few days before and shortly after symptoms stop. Minimise your likelihood of catching a cold by washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water. If someone you live with has a cold, avoid using the same towel, and don’t share other items around the house like glasses and cups.
It’s now known that the age old saying, ‘Feed a cold, starve a fever’ isn’t accurate. When feverish, our body’s core temperature rises to combat the infection. This uses more energy, so eating some good food to take on more calories can help to keep your strength up. Whether you have a cold or fever, it’s vital to avoid dehydration and keep sipping water. Speak to your local pharmacist for advice on over the counter medications to help manage your symptoms.
Talk! Times have changed and picking up the phone to have an actual conversation with friends and family is less frequent than a quick SMS or voice note. Talking out loud, whether in person or on the phone, is a great way to organise our thoughts, create a sense of belonging, and we’re more likely to laugh out loud than from a typed message. More time indoors could mean more time looking down at screens. Top tip: put a cushion or pillow on your lap to rest your elbows on and save that aching neck!
With these physio and wellness tips in mind, I hope you’re able to get outside and stay active this winter. While taking care of ourselves should minimise injuries and health problems, injuries can still happen. If you have any winter injuries or other conditions you’d like to discuss with a professional, please don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or another medical professional. There are many issues that might get ignored, potentially leading to other issues due to compensatory movements, reduced activity and a negative effect on mental health. Physiotherapists can help you recover and regain movement in your body once again. If you can, get that niggling ache or pain assessed – you may not need to just accept it, or hope it will go away on its own.
Do you live in Lincolnshire? You can make an appointment with me at https://www.inlinetherapies.co.uk/contact – fill in your details here and I will give you a call to discuss your issues and schedule an appointment at my clinic. This is located in the village of Nettleham in a quiet, secluded space with free off-road parking.
You can also find physiotherapists on professional registration websites such as https://www.hcpc-uk.org and you’ll be able to search online for your country’s registrator. If preferred, you can discuss it further with your GP, self refer to NHS Physiotherapy or check out local private physiotherapists at https://www.csp.org.uk.