The winter months can be brutal to try and get through. It’s dark when you leave the house in the morning to go to work and its dark when you get home. It can be pretty depressing. Here are some top tips by our Osteopath Lyndsy Mills into staying healthy and happy this winter.
Get some natural light and fresh air
Try and get at least 20mins of natural light a day. Go outside and get some natural sunlight and fresh air. Sounds super simple but it’s all you need to boost your metabolism and circulatory systems to support your immune system. Being indoors all day in air-conditioned rooms or central heated environments can be dehydrating. You need a burst of fresh air to fill the lungs and your body with a fresh supply of oxygen that your heart requires to pump oxygenated blood around the body to the target tissues.
We also require natural sunlight for cell respiration and vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D helps our bodies produce oestrogen which essential for bone density. Vitamin D also improves our mood and stops us getting depressed by helping to synthesis serotonin levels in our brain. (1)
Go for a walk
Get out of the office to get lunch and don’t eat it at your work station. If you sit at your desk all day you need to get up every hour and stretch and move. This prevents you getting back and neck pain. Sitting all day puts a lot of stress on the neck and the lower back, the spinal segments get very compressed and start to stiffen up. The ligaments that support the spinal joints get fatigued and start to slacken and the vertebral discs dehydrate. The supportive structured walls of the intervertebral discs weaken and break down and over time this leads to disc bulges and disc prolapses. Staying active and controlled spinal segmental movement is the best prevention of injury to the intervertebral discs. Sitting all day will in general weaken the supportive structures of the spine leading you vulnerable to injury and pain.
A happy and healthy spine is a spine that has good segmental mobility with equal amounts of stability from the deep intrinsic muscles that support it. The best thing you can do is go for a walk and get out of your chair as often as possible.
Do not neglect sleep. Sleep is restorative and healing. You use this valuable time to mend your body and process the events of the day. Without it you will get run down and won’t be able to recover so well from injury, illness or stress. Most people will require different amounts of sleep to keep them healthy and as you get older people find they need less sleep. If your working around the clock however you will burn out eventually and will end up taking a week off work to recover from exhaustion unless you take the time now to get enough sleep each night. Develop good sleeping patterns, and mindfulness – a useful resource book can be found at The Sleep School.
I see many patients in our Osteopathic clinic at Little Venice Pilates who are having acute exacerbations of neck, back and shoulder pain from a result of long term stress. Stress and exhaustion from working long hours and trying to cope with an increased workload as well as stress factors at home and in your personal life can really take a toll on your health and wellbeing.
Take time for yourself, do something you enjoy once a week to reduce the stress on your mental and physical health. Being stressed can put your body in a state of consent anxiety and high alert. This means your adrenal glands are constantly being bombarded with signals from your brain to excrete cortisol so your body is ready to cope with a stressful situation. Cortisol is a steroid that your body secretes when your brain thinks you are in danger but high levels over a long period of time will suppress your immune system leaving you susceptible to illness. Stress is a causative factor in heart disease and high blood pressure, stress can make certain inflammatory diseases and connective tissue disorders worse.
Get a little bit of exercise everyday
Try to get at least 30mins a day will do wonders. It doesn’t have to mean you have to go to the gym and do a spinning class and do things you don’t enjoy if that’s not for you. Some people love the high intensity exercise classes like aerobics, spinning, running, squash etc and there are others that love yoga, pilates, Gyrokinesis® or just going for long walks. Find something you like and you will then stick with it, could be just taking the dog out for a walk. It has to be enjoyable or you will dread it.
In general, exercise will make anyone feel better, it boosts the circulatory systems and exercise will help prevent depression by stimulating endorphines. If you have ever had an injury that meant you were not able to get about and get on with your usual day to day routine it can be frustrating and depressing. If you love to play golf for example and now you can’t play because of your lower back pain, it can be upsetting and frustrating. Get out there and enjoy the day!
Sound obvious but a lot of times fatigue and lethargy is simply because we don’t drink enough water. Tea, coffee, sodas, juice do have some water in them but this still needs to be broken down by the liver and the water extracted. Preservatives, chemicals, sugars, caffeine all need to be metabolised which uses up energy. Tap water will also have a lot of metals in it which will need to be broken down by the body and toxified by the liver, so try drinking filtered or mineral water instead. Take a look at your pee if it is pale or clear it means it is a good sign that you are hydrated, if it is dark that you need to drink more water.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines suggests drinking two litres of water a day.
Have you ever seen cats when they wake up from sleep? Notice how they stretch their spines and how wonderfully they move. Joseph Pilates observed the movement of cats, which inspired the Pilates repertoire. Cats move with so much agility and grace, they are light on their feet, fast and able to be completely comfortable in their own bodies, every movement looks so effortless.
Most of us only use about 10% of the movement in our spines. Look at dancers and gymnasts and then you get a pretty good understanding of the potential for movement in our spines. Dancers, pilates instructors, gymnastics for example have been training for years and spend hours everyday stretching and exploring movement. You don’t have to spend hours everyday stretching or train to be a dancer to help improve your spinal mobility and posture but a few simple exercises for your spine are worth doing on a daily basis. Everyone has a different body and unique spinal curves, so it is best to be assessed and come in for an appointment to learn a few exercises and get advice on how you can also maintain a healthy spine.
Reg Osteopath and Pilates instructor
- Patrick RP, Ames BN. Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior. FASEB J Off Publ Fed Am Soc Exp Biol. 2015 Jun;29(6):2207–22.