As the poet George Herbert once said “Every mile is two in winter” and that’s often how it feels when we think of getting up and exercising as the winter months approach. Whilst joint and muscle pain can occur at any time or temperature throughout the year, the colder months can make the symptoms appear more noticeable.
This often occurs because when we are cold, our vessels restrict our blood supply around our extremities such as our hands and feet and prioritizes our vital organs such as the heart and lungs. This causes the muscles around the joints to feel more stiff, inflexible and uncomfortable.
So what is the solution then? Just like you need to spray WD40 on the stiff parts of your bike and oil in your car we need an equivalent in our bodies. The main solution for us it to keep our joints active so they don’t stiffen up.
If we give our muscles a long rest during winter, the chances are, we shouldn’t be surprised when they become weaker and slowly get to the point when they have more difficulty supporting our knees. Some tips to prevent stiffness and keep muscles strong:
1. Keep Moving
Pain is a protective mechanism that is designed to stop you from damage but doesn’t always mean you should quit exercising if you feel tired or sore in the morning. Keeping active is vital and will help keep your joints and muscles strong.
2. Stay Warm
It’s a good idea to layer up in the cold and as you start moving, so as your workout progresses you can peel off the layers.
3. If you are new to exercise, don’t overdo it
Slowly build up the amount you do. Starting slow and being consistent is better than the boom and bust approach to exercise. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercises per week. So if you are finding a 30 minutes chunk of daily walking difficult, you can do 3 bouts of 10 minutes of exercise and it’s just as effective.
4. Treat injuries properly
One of the main reasons old injuries hurt during winter months is that they may have never healed or strengthened properly, leading to scar tissue or weakness that can be long-lasting. Treatment of such injuries through manual therapy and rehabilitative strengthening can prevent them from becoming long term problems in future winters.
5. Have an Accountability Buddy
We should never just rely on motivation to keep us fit and healthy because as we know, we aren’t always motivated. Organize a weekly walk with a friend, partner or dog. If you aren’t motivated to exercise, book in regular sessions with an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist to keep you on track.
6. Tap into Technology
There are plenty of great applications on your phone that can monitor your exercise and progress such as ‘Nike+’, ‘strava’, ‘map my walk’. There are also pedometers such as Fitbits that can monitor your activity and how many steps you take. Monitor how many steps you do and increase it per week to always try and beat your best.
7. Step out of the Ordinary
Take a Pilates or yoga class. They are easy on the joints but provide great lasting benefits. Having a tough week at work? It’s also a positive and fun way to de-stress and exercise without worrying about sets and reps.
Give some or all of these a try during the colder months to keep you on track with your goals and prevent any aches and pains that tend to creep in!