As the evenings draw in and the days seem shorter, it is important not to hibernate too much under the blanket whilst letting your healthy habits slip. Here are a few things to consider as we go into winter so you can keep your body functioning at its best.
1. Keep stiff joints moving
Chiropractic is a system designed to help mobilize stiff joints, or joints that are restricted to get better function of the nervous system. The nervous system is the master system of the body and regulates and controls everything from your internal organs keeping you alive to your peripheral muscles aiding you to walk the dog. Chiropractors locate areas of the spine that may have joints that are ‘locked up’ or not moving as well as they should and therefore creates “dis-ease” in the nervous system.
Over time, this can create distortions in posture, affect our mobility going up and down stairs, getting in and out of bed and often even lead to the development of pain. The chiropractic adjustment alongside soft tissue massage and stretching will help to mobilize joints and to help restore our mobility, range of motion, and to alleviate pain signals by creating ease in the nervous system. So, in addition to the extra warm cup of tea and turning up the heaters at home, chiropractic care is a strong adjunct to staying mobile and pain-free during the winter months.
2. Temperature balance
Our bodies own thermostat is an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. This region of the brain has a wide range of functions such as controlling appetite, regulating emotional responses, releasing hormones, maintaining daily physiological cycles and regulating body temperature. As the nerves that supply your brain come from the neck, having a tight or restricted cervical spine can inhibit the signals travelling along the nerve compromising the function of the hypothalamus. With this in mind, it is important to make sure you are keeping your spine adjusted, alongside stretching and mobility exercises throughout the winter months, keeping your body temperature at equilibrium.
3. Look after your mental health
This winter roughly 3% of the population will suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The main theory is that it is a type of seasonal depression which affects the same part of the brain which controls body temperature, the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls the production rate of the hormone melatonin which makes you feel sleepy. SAD has been shown to produce higher levels of the sleep hormone making you feel even sleepier throughout the day. Reduced sunlight during the winter can lower your levels of serotonin (happy hormone) linking to feelings of depression and lower mood. Serotonin levels are also linked to gut health, so it’s important to eat the right things over winter to maintain a well functioning gut- brain connection. We are all aware that the days become shorter during the winter with reduced levels of daylight. Daylight indicates to our bodies important daily functions such as when to wake up and when to go to sleep. An increased disturbance to our body clocks can lead to SAD, so even if you feel like hibernating, wrap up warm and head outside for some much needed daylight.
Typical symptoms of SAD
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent low mood, feeling sad, low, guilty, tearful
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Increased susceptibility to cold, infections and other illness
- Loss of sexual or physical desire
There are a number of different methods you can use to help reduce your chances of developing SAD. All of which are straight forward to follow and can easily be part of your daily routine.
Getting outdoors exercising
It is all too easy in the winter to go into hibernation mode when it is cold and dark outside. However wrapping up warm and just going for a walk will significantly increase the production of serotonin lifting your mood and enabling you to deal with the stress of daily life much easier. Try to make physical activity become a part of your daily routine as this will then become a habit requiring much less effort. Even a 30 minute walk during your lunch break will enable you to get away from your screen and clear your head helping you prepare for the afternoon.
Because SAD is a type of depression, therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling are important things to consider. Emotional components such as (worries about Christmas, work stress etc) may be contributing to the issue and need resolving alongside other considerations. Alongside this, being open and communicating with close friends and family can also help. Winter can also be a time of isolation for lots of people, so having people around that can help and support you can make a significant improvement in your outlook.
Get more light exposure
As discussed, light is very limited in winter, so using a SAD lamp is a very cheap and effective way of getting extra “sunlight” in over this period. A lamp like this one here can be picked up cheaply and used when working at your computer or eating breakfast, so doesn’t need to be a chore and could make a big difference in your mood.
4. Ensure you are keeping your nutrition balanced
We are all aware of the challenges around eating during the winter months. It is all too easy to eat too much stodgy ‘feel good’ food. However it is vital to maintain the function your immune system by consuming sufficient levels of vitamins and nutrients as it fights off any nasty infections. Try and keep you plate colourful with different fruits and vegetables sticking to what is in season. Adding things like turmeric and ginger to your food will give you a boost of natural anti-inflammatories.
Aim to drink 2-3 litres of water per day to keep your body hydrated. Water also regulates your body temperature and body weight alongside preventing your skin from drying out in the cold weather! It is inevitable that you will be tucking into the mince pies and chocolate this time of year but try to remember that sugary foods are high in inflammatory markers so try to be disciplined and limit the intake of these to keep your body functioning at its best.
5. Get plenty of rest
Your body won’t thank you if you never give it enough time to recover! A lot of us pride ourselves on ‘only needing 5 hours sleep a night’ however research has shown that not getting enough sleep can significantly reduce your alertness and general performance as it helps to cleanse the brain of all the toxins that have accumulated throughout the day. A lack of sleep has also been associated with inhibited cytokine function. Cytokines are basically proteins that are crucial in controlling the growth and activity of both immune cells and blood cells. So ensuring that you get a consistent 7-8 hours of sleep a night will boost your immune system is in its optimum state to help fight infection.
Here are a few tips to help ensure you get the best sleep possible:
- Try to get into a routine so you are going to bed and waking up the same time every night
- Read a few pages of a book instead of scrolling through your phone
- There are plenty of apps and podcasts such as ‘Calm’ and ‘Headspace’ which can help you to relax and make it easier to fall asleep
- Take herbal teas before bed time such as chamomile or lavender tea or use a magnesium and glycine supplement such as Cyto-Night.
Yours in good health
Sports Therapist MSST