It feels strange to anticipate autumn and winter whilst we’re experiencing record-breaking temperatures in September. But despite the blazing hot sun, it has reached that time of year when the evenings get darker, leaves turn orange and brown and every cafe starts stocking pumpkin spice. As we get ready for the colder months we might make some preparations like getting those winter coats out of storage or insulating your house, but how do we prepare our bodies for the cold months to come? In this blog, I’d like us to examine what changes occur in our body as the weather changes, and what we can do to make sure we stay fit and healthy as we go into winter.
What happens to us as the weather gets colder?
Walking around during autumn it’s obvious that a change is taking place. Scattered leaves and bare branches make it obvious our external environment has changed. As the seasons change our bodies have learnt to adjust to this yearly change in a number of subtle and more obvious ways. As it gets colder our bodies require more energy and maintenance to continue to work well and functionally. Our bodies thrive under consistent conditions, so it’s important we anticipate and do what we can to alleviate the stressors that winter puts on our bodies. Here are some of the most significant changes and what you can do to mitigate them.
Joints get stiffer, pains get worse
There isn’t a general agreement as to the cause but as the weather gets colder, those who suffer from a range of conditions from arthritis, back or knee complaints or more serious chronic health conditions report worse symptoms. As it gets colder, pressure in our environment lowers, which can cause internal pressure, particularly around the muscles and joints. This pressure can be painful, and with inflammatory conditions may be a sadly inevitable fact of winter. However, there are things we can do to reduce this pressure and discomfort.
During the winter it can be tempting to stay indoors and wrap up warm. This decrease in physical activity may play a role in why pain gets worse during the cold weather. Decreased circulation due to lack of physical exercise can increase stiffness in the joints, so it’s vital that we keep our bodies moving as the cold weather sets in. Engaging in light to moderate exercise once a day can improve circulation and flexibility, leaving your blood free to flow around your body and function well. Avoiding alcohol and tobacco can also help increase circulation which helps your body combat inflammation
We slow down
Another unfortunate consequence of the change in season is a change in our metabolism. Just like animals, thousands of years of evolution have prepared our bodies for the winter. As the weather gets colder, our metabolism slows down so that the body can run on reduced energy during a time of year when food would be hard to come by. So it’s more important during the winter that we stay active. Engaging in light to moderate exercise a couple of times a week can not only help you from gaining weight. Research has suggested that consistent regular exercise can help stimulate your immune system which is vital to prevent and fight diseases that are particularly prevalent in the colder months.
It gets darker
As winter sets in and the days become shorter, we notice we spend less of our days bathed in warm sunlight. Sunlight isn’t just great for keeping us toasty and getting a tan. We absorb the majority of our daily vitamin D intake from the sun, without having to put much conscious thought into it. However in winter when our exposure to the sun is limited we might not be getting all the vitamin D our body needs to function. Vitamin D is essential for our bones and muscles to stay healthy and support our bodies and without the right amount of it, it may be hard to stay mobile and get active.
Increasingly dark days can also have an impact on our mental health. Sunlight can help trigger a release of serotonin, a hormone that is often referred to as the happy hormone. On the other hand, darkness can trigger melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel tired and helps you sleep. The change in seasons can throw this cycle of day and night hormones out of balance, leaving you feeling less happy and more lethargic. It is vital in these months to maximise your exposure to sunlight. Making time to engage in activity outdoors will ensure your body’s cycle isn’t changed dramatically and you’re getting all the nourishment the sun provides.
What can we do about it?
The season’s change is inevitable, so it’s important that we find a way to adapt to these changes and provide our bodies with the resources they need to function well. It’s important that we make sure to look after ourselves not just physically but mentally. Staying active during winter isn’t always easy, but it’s important that we put time into getting our bodies moving to preserve our health and independence.
Try to get outside at least once a day and engage in some form of physical activity. Physical activity does not have to be strenuous, even a walk around the garden or a few minutes of stretching can help improve your body’s circulation of blood, and keep you from stiffening up in the cold weather. Low-impact exercise is a great way of staying fit during winter, you might want to read more about it on our blog. Try to make sure you’re getting at least a few hours a day with your skin exposed to sunlight to keep your vitamin D levels up, and your sleep cycle in check.
Even though our body’s reaction is to go into hibernation mode in winter, it’s vital we ignore this and remain active during this period of time. Winter can often be an isolating and tiring month, but making sure that you are getting out and about can keep the mental impact of winter to a minimum. So don’t let winter get you down, and embrace the cold weather knowing that you’re doing everything you can to keep moving and stay healthy.