In December I said, who cares? No time to exercise, lots of parties and too much good food everywhere I turn. Now it’s January and I say “What the #%&@ was I thinking?”
And baby, it’s cold outside. I want to just pull the covers over my eyes and hibernate until spring. Well, except for breaks to eat some soul satisfying Mac n Cheese and binge watch The Crown.
Getting up and moving is the right thing to do. I know that. So why is it so hard?
Weather affects your mind and your body. Understanding how they work together is important. Here are some tips to get through the darkest months of the year and come out the other side without having lost so much ground that you spend all spring getting back on track.
Problem: Shorter days can make you sad. When sunlight is in short supply, melatonin increases, causing us to crave sleep. Melatonin increases, but serotonin decreases – which make for more depression, insomnia, and craving sweets. And when we sit around, endorphin levels plummet, so we feel more pain. Just. Great.
Solution: A walk midday can help you take advantage of the sunlight you do have. The combination of movement and sun elevates happy hormones like serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. Skip the walk in the dark with a headlamp and opt for more exercise midday. If that isn’t possible, try working out in a brightly lit room or near a light therapy box.
Problem: Cold decreases physical performance. Try tying your shoes or writing your name when your hands are cold. Cold temperatures reduce sensation, dexterity, muscle strength, blood flow, and balance, which impacts performance of complex physical tasks. If you can’t even tie your shoes, you might be completely unmotivated to hit the gym.
Solution: Lay out clothes the night before to decrease obstacles. Clothes should be layered so you stay warm as you start moving. The added layers will stimulate blood flow and get you ready to roll. Then as your body temperature increases with movement, muscles relax and joints get lubricated. Movement becomes more fluid because motion is lotion.
Problem: Cold weather increases pain. Or so you think. 2016 and 2018 meta-analyses of research showed only weak connections between weather and pain. Why then, do so many people swear by this connection? If people move less in the cold, and less movement means decreased blood flow, maybe that causes more pain and stiffness. But that isn’t all.
While there may be weak physical connections between cold and joint pain, the mind body connections are strong. You’ve heard that joints are great barometers – and you can tell when a cold front is coming in by how your joints feel. Just read the Berenstein bears book: Week at Grandmas and you’ll realize how early myths start. So, when the next cold front comes in, your brain is already calculating how much your joints will ache. Every time it happens, the connection gets stronger and the myth is reinforced.
Solution: Remember that the physical links are weak and that, if you stay curious about whether that pain is really coming from the cold, you might loosen your brain’s strangle hold on those joints and decrease pain just by thinking warm thoughts. “Yeah right” you say, but what have you got to lose?
How do you carry on when the cold is conspiring to make winter a time for hibernation? You might need to make some adjustments to your exercise. Start a little more slowly in the cold, but keep moving to increase blood flow and lubricate joints, especially when you know a cold front is coming. Exercise in the midday sun whenever possible, and dress for success by layering up.
Serotonin, melatonin, dopamine and endorphins are all part of our mind/body connection. Every one of these hormones works better if we move. Keep moving and spring will be here before you know it.
If something gets in the way of your determination to exercise, we are here to help. Don’t let an ankle sprain or hip injury make for a whole winter of binge watching and Mac n Cheese. Make an appointment today.