Don’t wait until spring to find your fitness

Winter can really put a damper on your fitness. Cold, wet weather can pose significant challenges for fair-weather athletes. And who doesn’t want to stay curled up under blankets on a gloomy day? The fact is, taking a complete break from your fitness between November and March isn’t a great idea if you want to maintain good health, avoid injury and enjoy athletics and recreation come the warmer months of spring and summer.

Stave off winter weight

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, people gain five to seven pounds on average during the winter months. The reasons are numerous — holiday treats, lack of motivation to exercise in cold weather, extra time in bed, comfort foods and even evolution! That’s right, our ancestors experienced food scarcity in the winter and our bodies remember, so we crave more calories in the winter. University of Colorado researchers studied a group of 12 women and six men in both summer and winter and discovered production of ATLPL, a chemical that promotes fat storage, almost doubled during the winter and dropped during the summer.

The National Institutes of Health defines overweight as having a BMI (body mass index) of 27.3% or more for women and 27.8 % or more for men. According to Dr. Joel Peck, head of physical therapy at Great Basin Orthopaedics, maintaining a healthy weigh is particularly beneficial for our hips, knees, ankles and backs.

“When we’re overweight, we are asking our bones and joints to work harder than they were designed to, which can lead to injury,” Peck explains, “Resulting conditions include cartilage damage, bursitis, tendonitis and arthritis. Being overweight also makes it more difficult to recover from orthopaedic injury.”

RELATED: Are Your Joints Begging You To Lose Weight?

Maintaining an exercise regime of any sort in the winter helps you fight all of the forces trying to fatten you up.

It’s beneficial to mix it up

Winter is actually a great time to freshen up your fitness routine, or get out of a routine and try something new. For those who have an established program — whether it be running, hiking, cycling or aerobics — having a narrow focus can be self-defeating for a number or reasons:

  • You tend to get bored doing the same thing, which depletes motivation
  • Repeating the same type of exercise all the time works the same muscles and joints and increases the risk of overuse injury
  • You may plateau and no longer see improvements (i.e. getting faster, stronger, more flexible)
  • Focusing on certain muscles and motions neglects others, creating imbalance

A jog a day keeps the doctor away

It’s pretty well established that regular exercise makes us healthier. Not only do you reap cardiovascular, muscle, bone and joint benefits, but exercise actually strengthens your immune system. When you exercise, your blood gets pumping (literally), enabling immune cells to circulate through your body more quickly, finding and destroying infection. So, during the season of colds, flu and other viruses, exercise can keep you from getting sick.

Beyond the physical, exercise can improve your mental health, too. Depending on where you live, winter can be gray, cold and a bit depressing. This condition is so prevalent, there’s a medical term for it: seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Exercise can help stimulate parts of your brain that aren’t as responsive when you’re feeling depressed. It also stimulates the release of numerous neurotransmitters – endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin — that play an important part in regulating your mood.

There is no fitness button

That May 1 10k is going to come up faster than you think and if you haven’t been staying in shape over the winter you will be scrambling to get fit fast. Dr. Peck says that is recipe for trouble.

“Slow and easy wins the day,” explains Peck, “It’s never a good idea to do more than your body is prepared to handle, whether it’s golfing 18 holes on the first sunny spring day or running 10 miles the day the mud dries. We advise that you ramp up your fitness and your intensity slowly over time. You’ll have a much lower risk of injuring yourself.”

Knees, shoulders and hips are among the injuries Dr. Peck and the team at Great Basin Orthopaedics see in the spring. Shin splints, tennis elbow (medically called medial or lateral epicondylitis) and ligament strains are among the most common conditions for the over-eager spring athlete.

Key takeaways: maintain some level of fitness during winter, mix up your exercise regime to work different parts of your body and stay in balance and, if you’re not very fit come spring, start slow.

In our next blog, we’ll dig into winter workout options and pose the big question: are you an innie or an outie?

Whether you’re fit or still aspiring to be, injury can happen. If you experience a bone or joint injury, put yourself in good hands, see an expert at Great Basin Orthopaedics. Our surgeons and physical therapists have the skill and understanding to get you back to exercise and doing what you love quickly.