Prepping for Spring
I woke up this morning, checked my weather app to see another 16 degree day, and threw a little temper tantrum in my head before even getting out of bed. Once I collected myself and returned to being an adult, I realized we’re all in the same boat. Everyone in Boston has endured an insane winter, and I’d be willing to bet that even the winter-lover’s enthusiasm is waning at this point. The good news is that (hopefully) it’s almost over. On February 2nd Punxsutawney Phil played a sick joke on all of us by seeing his shadow despite overcast skies, predicting another six weeks of winter. The great news is that at this point, there should be just three more weeks to go! That being said, instead of reviewing another injury this week I thought it might be nice to redirect our focus. Let’s set our sights on the nice weather just around the corner and talk about ways to prep for spring by staying healthy through the last bit of cold.
By the time the last month of winter rolls around, there’s a good chance we’ve succumbed to the harsh weather and hunkered down as we wait for the Earth to thaw.
Workout regimens have gone out the window with 6ft of snow barricading our doors and rendering the streets impassable. Healthy eating habits have taken a back seat in exchange for comfort food. The outdoor activities that usually clear our minds and help us to de-stress aren’t available, and curling up on the couch on a snowy day probably happens more often than it should when everyday is a snowy one. My point is, your ‘winter lifestyle” probably looks a lot different than the health-oriented one that you commit to the other three seasons of the year. And how could we blame you!? After all, bears hibernate during these months for a reason. Spring is fast approaching, though, so let’s get back on track. Let’s take inventory of how we’re feeling, thinking, eating, sleeping, and living so that we stay healthy and propel into the beautiful weather as our best selves.
SLEEP: I’m sure I’m not the first, or the fiftieth, person to tell you how important it is to get ample sleep each night. I also know it’s not always easy. It’s tough to find enough time in the day, or to pull yourself off the couch and out from under the three blankets keeping you warm, to get to bed. Sleep lets our bodies and minds recuperate from the day, prepare for the next, and maintain a healthy immune system. Think of it as the body’s quiet time to heal without having to worry about responding to stress, walking, talking, working, exercising, etc. It allows for tissue growth and repair, restoration of energy, and control of hormones. Inadequate sleep can throw off hormones responsible for appetite and feelings of fullness and hunger, confusing your body and causing you to overeat. It can affect levels of stress hormones, which in turn can cause weight gain and insulin resistance. It can also impact levels of growth hormones that allow for growth and development. In reality, it’s not just about feeling tired when you don’t get enough sleep. It’s much bigger than that!
TO DO: Attempt to re-vamp your schedule to allow for adequate sleep each night. I know it’s difficult, but think of it as an investment to keep you healthy so that you can more effectively tackle your daily schedule. Start to wind down at least 30min before bed. That means electronics are turned off, lights dim, and to-do lists are put aside for the night. Instead of watching TV, try light reading or listening to calming music. Also, take stock of the light sources in your bedroom. Do you have good shades or blinds to keep it dark? Can you unplug some electronics that produce light? The darker you can get the room, the less stimulus you’ve got while trying to fall asleep and stay asleep.
MEDITATION: Some love to practice meditation, and others think it’s for the birds. Personally, I can relate to both. At first, I found the practice of meditation to be extremely frustrating. I started it as a requirement for one of my thesis projects at UMass. I remember thinking, “A person like me can’t sit still and “not think” for 10 minutes! This just isn’t for me.” I also remember realizing that it’s probably those of us who can’t imagine quieting our minds for just 10min a day that probably need it the most. After lots of practice, I have come to think of meditation as a reset button for my day. It doesn’t have to be 10min of beating yourself up for thinking about things when you’re not “supposed” to be thinking about things. It can be two or three minutes at the start, middle, or end of your day when you close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and regroup. Some biofeedback forms of meditation are even known for their physiological affects on the body, meaning your body is physically changing and relaxing in those couple of minutes. Many of the outdoor and exercise-related activities we turn to in order to relieve stress aren’t possible during the winter months. Unfortunately, stress doesn’t just disappear when it realizes our typical outlets aren’t available to us. Instead, try some meditation. After all, at the very least high stress = high cortisol levels = weight gain! More importantly, stress can compromise your immune system. You’ve made it this far without getting sick. Let’s keep it that way!
TO DO: Because I’m a chiropractor, and not a meditation instructor (surprise!), I won’t try to pretend that I’m the best person to lead you through it. Instead, I’ll lead you to my friend Heidi Spear. She is an instructor at Kripalu in the Berkshires, and has created easy to follow CDs on meditation and relaxation, written books on mindfulness, and led workshops in yoga. You can find her work at http://heidispear.com, and even look her up on iTunes. If she can get my overactive brain to turn off for 5min a day, I’m confident she can help you too! You can also check out https://www.headspace.com for some free meditations to get started.
EXERCISE AND STRETCHING: When winter weather takes over, you can’t get outside for a run without frostbite, and your yoga class keeps declaring snow days, it’s easy to settle into a routine of inactivity. Finding ways keep moving and flexible are difficult, but not impossible. We want you ready to throw on your sneakers that first beautiful spring day, and we want you to stay strong and limber. Fitting in some form of activity each day not only provides all of the benefits that we know exercise to promote, but it also boosts the immune system, keeping you from getting sick this flu season. Staying active also helps prevent injuries from creeping up when you’re able to get back into your normal exercise routine.
TO DO: Search for free workouts on-demand with your cable service. This way if you can’t get outside you can still sneak in some exercise. I’ve seen programs for yoga, cardio, strength training, and even zumba. And try your best to get outside for a walk when you can. Fresh air and sunlight do amazing things for your brain and your Vitamin D levels. If your gym is closed but you can still get around the city, see if other gyms in the area have a ‘drop in’ rate so you can take another class and try something new.
FOOD: Fresh fruit and veges are hard to come by during the winter months, and sometimes you just want a hearty meal to warm you up. Either way, diets change this time of year. Holidays bring sweets into the house, and no one wants to go grocery shopping when it’s below zero. As a result, we end up relying on a lot of processed and/or sugar-laden foods to fill up on. Remember this though, our bodies run on fuel in the form of food. They run on big macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and smaller nutrients like vitamins and minerals. All of these things can be found in real food. When I say “real” I mean the things that come from nature, not from a box. Boxed processed foods, with ingredient labels full of unpronounceable chemicals and additives aren’t real. Not only do they fail to provide our bodies with the fuel necessary for us to function and stay healthy, but they also add harmful ingredients to our bodies in the form of chemicals, excess sodium/sugar, and unnatural dyes. Also remember, illness, sickness, and disease breed on things like sugar. When your body is already struggling to avoid whatever flu is going around this season, don’t give it any more ammo! Instead, give it whole foods that promote health, good digestion, and immunity.
TO DO: Try shopping the perimeter of the grocery store one of these days. That means relegating yourself to the produce, dairy, and meat sections, and avoiding the aisles full of processed food. Obviously the different diets that you adhere to may exclude the diary and/or meat, but my goal is to simply help you fill your cart with more food from nature than from a box. The next time you grab chips for a snack, try grabbing some celery with some natural peanut butter instead. Swapping out a few typical food choices here and there can make a huge difference. By the time spring rolls around, you’ll be dying to stock up on fruits and veges at the farmer’s market on the weekends.
WATER: When you think about it, water is miraculous. Not only is most of the earth composed of water, but so are our bodies. Our skin, hair, and nails need it to stay healthy. Our digestive system doesn’t function without it. Our organs rely on it. The discs of our spine, the shock absorbers between the vertebrae, are made up of 86% water. Our muscles require it. Detoxification depends on it. Anyway, because we don’t get our daily intake of water from taking a shower or jumping in a lake, we must drink it! Drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water each day is the latest recommendation for staying adequately hydrated. And no, hot cocoa, coffee, soda, and fruit juice don’t count! Just water!
TO DO: If the ‘taste’ of water doesn’t do it for you, there are some tricks you can use. Adding lemons or limes to your water can help, as can freezing berries in your ice cubes and adding them to your water bottle in the morning. That leads me to another point. Carry a water bottle with you, and fill it when it’s empty. Sometimes, people need to set water goals for themselves throughout the day. One bottle before lunch, one at lunch, one after, or whatever you need to get your daily intake. Either way, try actually focusing on this for the next week. In no time, it will become a habit, and your body will start to rely on it. And remember, by the time you realize you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated so stay ahead of the game!
ADDRESS INJURIES: One of the biggest bummers is watching everyone else put on their sneakers to get outside and exercise on the first beautiful spring day, and being sidelined by an injury. Winter treadmill running, slip and fall accidents, or starting a new activity too quickly can all lead to injuries that hang around through the spring. Take the time to address injuries now, rest if necessary, and rehab your body.
TO DO: If you’ve got a spinal, soft tissue, or extremity issue check in with your chiropractor for an exam and evaluation. Depending on the injury, adjustments, strengthening, stretching, muscle work, taping, and/or stability can be used to address it. Catching it sooner rather than later is always better, making recovery easier and quicker.
SET GOALS: This is an easy one. What do you want to accomplish in the coming months? Is it better health? Is it a fitness or exercise goal? Is it a professional or family goal? The spring can be used like the New Year to start fresh and evaluate your life. But don’t wait until it gets here to set goals. Sit down and think about how you’d like to spend the next 6 months. That way, as soon as the weather allows us all to operate like fully-functioning adults again, you’re ready to go!
Hopefully this week’s blog has you looking forward to a spring of warmth, health, and wellness! Remember, the ground hog says just three more weeks…..
-Dr. Lauren Doscher