Getting Your Body Ready for Winter

Winter is fast approaching.

Just like we need to get our furnaces ready to handle the impending cold, we need to get ourselves ready for the demands that the cold weather puts on our bodies.

If we don’t service and maintain our furnaces before winter, we chance it breaking down when it is cold and working hard. We also need to get it serviced periodically, and maintain it, to make sure that it is running optimally and not wasting energy.

Our bodies are the same. If we don’t maintain our bodies and keep ourselves in some semblance of shape, then we chance our bodies breaking down when we are stressed and working hard. Our bodies can break down when the sudden demands of cold weather stress us, such as: shoveling snow, slipping on the ice, pushing a car out of a ditch, walking in the snow, just staying warm (it takes energy for our body to keep itself warm).

The inactivity that is so prevalent in the short, dark, cold days of winter is just as bad on our bodies. Many people hibernate during the winter, thinking that once the warm weather comes back, they will then get themselves into shape. Inactivity causes the muscles to atrophy, or slowly degenerate. The muscle cells get smaller, tighter and weaker the less they are used.

Inactivity is horrible for your muscles. The less activity a muscle gets, the less functional it becomes. The higher the degree of inactivity, the higher the degree of muscle irritation and disfunction. The two are directly related to each other.

When muscles are kept in a static, still or shortened position for minutes to hours, they tighten up. The longer a muscle is kept in that static position, the tighter it gets, just like sitting at a desk for hours. A muscle will get so tight that it eventually tears on a microscopic level (usually while doing some benign activity like turning your head or tying your shoes), sending the muscle into a pattern of spasm and inflammation. This can set up pain cycles that can be painful, debilitating and can last for years.

While sitting, the back of the leg muscles, front of the hip muscles, abdominal muscles, front of chest muscles, and many other muscles, all tighten up. Factor in previous injuries and past medical history, and that is enough to create major injuries and pain such as: carpal tunnel, piriformis syndrome, sciatica, IT Band syndrome, patella tracking problems, chondromalecia-patella, and many other pain syndromes and issues.

If you sit at a desk all day, and don’t do anything to prevent those muscles from tightening up on a daily basis, (like the consistent, easy on your body strengthening and stretching exercises from Pain Free Lifestyle that keep your muscles strong and loose and capable of dealing with the stresses of daily life) then when you have to do something abnormal and stressful with your body such as shoveling snow, you will injure yourself very easily.

If you want to be able to handle the normal, and abnormal, stresses of daily life that we all encounter, then it is essential to keep your body in shape for all the stresses that life throws at you. Muscles need to be loose and strong to be stable. The looser and stronger a muscle is, the more stable it will be. The looser and stronger a muscle is, the better able it will be to handle the stress of walking down the street, talking to a friend and tripping over a curb. Strengthening and stretching the right muscles will keep them capable of catching you when you trip over a curb while not paying attention, or lifting that bag into the overhead bin of the airplane, or shoveling that foot of snow from the blizzard that just blew into town.

You have to keep yourself in shape to deal with the stresses of life, so that your body will be able to handle the normal activities of daily living. Training for regular life takes a regular routine that is low impact and low intensity, not high impact and high intensity.

It does not take a crazy hard and intense exercise routine that requires hours and hours a day, lots of pain, and even more sweat and tears, to get into shape for regular life. I am here to tell you that the older you get, the less hard and less intense you want to exercise. The older we get, the less appropriate those crazy intense exercise systems like crossfit, p90x and bootcamp become.

If you are 35 or older and haven’t become a professional athlete yet, then chances are that you are not going to be a professional athlete. So there is no reason to train like one.

The older we become, the slower we recover. We also accumulate wear and tear over time. Our bodies remember our old injuries, even if we don’t. Any place in your body where you may have had a previous injury will be more likely to get arthritis and break down quicker than the rest of the body.

Any type of exercise injures the muscles. Exercise tears the muscle fibers and they then rebuild stronger and bigger than before. That is how we get stronger. The older we get, the more exercise will injure us, and the slower we will recover from it. It will affect us more and more, eventually building up to create a larger injury that will be bad enough to make you have to stop exercising, and possibly even have to take time off from work.

I have had patients who have injured themselves so badly from exercising too hard at the beginning of a new routine that they urinated blood. Other patients can’t walk stairs for days, or lift their arms for days, or have horrible headaches for days to weeks, you name it.

That is why the older you get, the easier you want to go with exercise. We don’t recover from the stress that exercise puts upon our bodies very easily. How easy to go? It depends on personal shape and history. In general, if it hurts to do something, then don’t do it.

That’s worth repeating, if it hurts, then don’t do it. Your ego is not on the line if you can’t do an exercise that your friend or the muscular guy on the machine next to you can perform.

Pain is your body’s self protective mechanism. Listen to it. Most issues are slowly accumulating over time. If you can learn to listen to your pain and body, you can prevent injuries from cropping up in the first place.

The first step in preventing injuries, or preventing injuries from getting worse, is if it hurts then don’t do it. Go easy on your body, life certainly isn’t. Low impact, low intensity exercises will be easy on your body and not cause injury and pain. Low impact, low intensity exercises are easy to stick with long term because they are so easy on your body. You won’t injure yourself, and therefore will be able to stick with the program for a long period.

Low intensity, low impact exercises won’t get your ripped and lean with 6 pack abs within 2 months, but if you stick with them long term, they will give you the best chance of getting in as good of shape as possible.

Some people are just genetically able to have 6 pack abs, some without even working at it. Some people are genetically large framed and heavy. Are the heavier people less healthy than the lighter ones? The healthiest ones will be the ones who are exercising consistently, whether they are big boned or small framed. Consistent exercising and healthy eating counts more for overall health than whether someone is heavy or has 6 pack abs.

That is why the best thing to do to get in shape for the upcoming winter, and the spring gardening and golfing season after that, and the bikini, pool and beach season after that, is to start consistent, easy on your body exercising now that you can stick with through the unique stresses that each new season and each new year, brings to us.

A nice aside to exercise is that is it a great way to combat seasonal mood disorder, or the depression that many people get from being indoors all winter. Exercise boosts your mood-elevating hormones and helps you to feel happy.

Be intelligent about exercising. Exercise smarter, not harder. This is the Pain Free Way.