Understand and Overcome the Aches and Pains of Winter!
It may have taken its time, but Winter is finally here! As the clouds roll in and the rain comes down, you may begin to notice your body respond to the drop in temperature with some unwelcome aches and pains.
Why does this happen? The answers are surprisingly more simple than you may think!
When the temperature drops, your brain decides (quite rightly) that your blood is far more important to your vital organs than your extremities. This means that blood flow to your joints, muscles, and skin is restricted as blood is shunted internally towards your heart, lungs and other important organs keeping you healthy and alive. The reduction of blood flow into your muscles leaves them cooler and less pliable than usual, making them more likely to tense up and contract. The increased tension in your muscles, in turn, causes the joints to which they attach to feel stiff and immobile. Unfortunately, when joints and muscles feel stiff and sore, the tendency is to move them less. This further decreases blood flow into the area and allows the tight muscles to stay that way, resulting in the development of painful, unpleasant trigger points. Symptoms of this can range from headaches, neck pain and lower back pain; to general muscle and joint aches and pains. Often people with arthritis or degenerative changes in their joints experience these symptoms more as the tightening and stiffening of muscles further aggravate their underlying condition. It has been suggested that the drop in barometric pressure during the winter months also contributes to the increased experience of pain in people with arthritis.
Winter is also notorious for its negative effect on general physical activity levels. As the days get colder, we tend to get less active and mobile and slip into a sedentary lifestyle of sitting, sitting and more sitting! As you rack up hours on the couch and in front of your computer screen, it becomes tiring to hold your body in an upright position and you become vulnerable to developing poor postural patterns. Inevitably you succumb to the slump (if it is not already a bad habit) which puts added stress and strain on your neck and shoulders. Your legs also take a knock as the sitting position puts your hip flexors and hamstrings in a shortened position. Prolonged sitting can over time cause these muscles to adopt this shortened position, creating tightness and stiffness in your hips and knees.
What Can You Do? Beat the Winter before it beats you!
Here’s what you can do this winter to manage those aches and pains:
1. Keep Warm
Since your blood isn’t doing a good job of keeping your muscles warm, it is up to you! Dress the part and darn yourself with thick socks, coats, scarfs, and boots to keep your muscles warm and supple.
2. Stretch yourself!
After sleeping or long periods of inactivity, give your muscles a stretch to prevent them from tightening up and shortening. Consistency is key, so try to incorporate stretching into your daily routine.
3. Resist the sit!
Although it is tempting to sit out the winter indoors, try to get creative in finding ways to minimise your sitting hours. Instead of sitting static watching TV, you can use this time to stretch your muscles and do some gentle range of motion exercises for your joints. Using a timer at work to remind you to get up and move at least every hour, sitting on a Pilates ball instead of a chair or working at a sit/stand desk are just a few practical ideas of how you can reduce your sitting hours at work.
4. Get Moving!
Exercise is the best way to get the blood flowing to your muscles and skin. The increased demand on your heart, movement of your joints and contraction of your muscles all encourage blood to flow freely to your extremities; keeping the muscles and joints warm, oxygenated and supple! Try to find ways to make exercise more appealing so the urge to skip the sweat and stay snug on the couch is not insurmountable. Workout in a group for motivation, stay indoors to keep warm or join a gym with a heated pool. Whatever it takes, keep moving!
5. Warm up a little longer
Jumping straight into exercise with cold, tight muscles can leave you vulnerable to muscle strains and joint sprains. This means that your warm-up is vital in winter as it gets the blood flowing to the muscles you plan to activate. Take 5-10 minutes before you start exercising to properly warm up your muscles with brisk walking, some dynamic stretching or by mimicking the activity to plan to be doing.
Love it or hate it, Winter has arrived! Take matters into your own hands and make small daily changes to safeguard yourself from developing those pesky winter pains.
Move Well. Live Well.