If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere like me, the chills are starting to show themselves. The days are a bit shorter, the clothes are a bit thicker, the air a bit piercing. No one is making plans to get the body beach-ready or making new year’s resolutions to get in shape. It’s time to get cosy, eat comfort food, get your favourite streaming app on and make sure you’re warm under the blanky.
Exercise tends to get taken down in priority when winter comes, but it’s also the season where cases of flu and respiratory maladies ramp up. Our body stocks calories up and we tend to get our sleep disrupted because of all that getting dark early. As much as you would rather not, keeping exercise up is really important for many reasons. If you’re a regular exerciser, not losing all that progress is enough of a reason, but regardless of how active you are, here a few more points.
White blood cells are the front line troops that deal with bacteria and viruses that enter our bodies. As you stress your body with exercise, your immune system will ramp up production of white blood cells to protect you from the “running away from the tiger” feeling you just got. And the increased blood flow will also ensure they go around your body faster, and more sentinels covering more ground means less chance of any sneaky baddies.
A fever is a clever mechanism from your body, as the elevated temperature helps white blood cells fight the good fight. Exercising also ramp up the temperature of your body, and during that time of warmth, your body gets a little boost in dealing with any threats that could be developing.
Lastly, should you get sick, being fitter means you can still go about your day a bit easier and recover faster as your body is used to recovering itself day in, day out from the stress of exercise.
I gotta say that I absolutely hate the mix of end of daylight savings time and darker days. The double act hits me hard and throws my sleep off for weeks. And if you’re like me, no amount of going to bed early can help.
The change in daylight length throws our body clock off – in the evening: “it’s dark outside, but there are still hours before bedtime, what’s going on?”, in the morning: “it’s 7.30am but don’t you dare get out of this bed before the sun shows itself!” – and that dreadful feeling of jetlag kicks in.
Getting regular exercise, preferably every day, will help keep the clock in check even if only for a few minutes of light work. As your body expects you to spend that amount of energy at a specific time there’s a rhythm that sets in, and if you keep a consistent routine with your food times too, double points!
Vitamin D is mostly linked with good bones and teeth as your body needs it to absorb calcium. But recent research has been linking it to many other health aspects, including insulin control (and diabetes), heart function (and diseases), the immune system (and autoimmune issues), amongst others.
It also has been linked with depression by a surprising amount of papers. The inner workings are not clear, but people with depression tend to show a low amount of Vitamin D in their system.
Vitamin D is a tricky little thing – it’s not too available naturally in foods, and only can be found in salmon, mackerel and fatty fish. Some foods are fortified with it, but absorption can be low. Our body is actually the best at creating it itself, and it only needs some direct sunlight to the skin (not through a window). In winter, the sun is scarce. So going outside for a jog or a walk on a sunny day is the best way to get the Vitamin D factory pumping up some goodness. Even just sitting outside with a book or looking at the view while letting El Sol hit you up will do wonders.
But that itself is not the only reason to get outside for some exercise.
The winter blues
As nice and comfortable as cosying up under a blanket with a cup of tea sounds, our brains do not love being cooped up too much. Staying inside for too long can bring about cabin fever and irritability and make it hard to motivate yourself to do basic things. Nutrition habits slip, “I’ll do it next Monday” syndrome kicks in and our health tends to go down a slope altogether.
Getting out to do some exercise, be it with friends or kids, is a nice mental health break too. Fighting the urge to not do things helps build some mental strength to deal with the cold and hard tasks of the day, and also make that hot cup of tea a bit more delicious. It also can prevent some weight gain and diminish that accordion effect through the waistline.
As we start exercising in hot weather our body starts sweating like a leaky fountain and everything is a tad harder. Exercising during winter is like having an air conditioning system following you everywhere, and you can push harder and faster. If you have any specific skills or goals that you’re working towards, this can be the time where you can spend extra time working through it as it takes more time for you to feel overheated and for your body cooling mechanisms to convince you to slow down.
If you would like some ideas or help to get some exercise this winter, get in touch and let’s make it snow.