Heater on and room warm- check
TV on ready to catch Hawthorn about to annihilate Geelong- check
Suitable beverages and snacks ready to keep hunger pangs at bay-check
Does this sound like your approach to winter activity? If so you are not alone. The European Journal of Physiology in 2009 reported that across many countries including Australia, and in all age groups from children to the elderly, that activity levels reduce in the winter months. There is world wide agreement that good health depends on us engaging in sufficient physical activity to maintain fitness. Unfortunately in developed countries such as Australia, many fail to engage in enough exercise at any time of the year. So are we more likely to suffer more health issues in Winter due reduced exercise levels?
The most obvious results of reducing activity levels in winter is a loss of cardiovascular fitness and weight gain. Fitness levels can plummet within 2 weeks of ceasing physical exercise. Other than not fitting into our favourite clothes and adopting the layered look to hide the expanding waist line, there is evidence to show that diabetes, cardiac events and high blood pressure can all increase in winter months. Although not all can be attributed to reduced exercise, these diseases can be kept at bay with a good lifestyle including regular exercise.
Falls in the elderly may increase in cooler months, with colder temperatures slowing reaction times in some. However, most of this increase in falls can be attributed to reduced winter activity resulting in a loss of fitness and strength which is vital for good balance.
Depression can increase in winter with reduced sunlight being suggested as a contributing factor. Whilst the severe form of this depression known as seasonal affective disorder is more likely in nations with very short winter hours of daylight, for those in Australia susceptible to depression, increasing sunlight exposure with a walk at lunchtime may assist with warding off the blues.
The Australian Department of Health and Aging suggest at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week to maintain good health. This level of activity needs a little more thought in Winter. If you do venture outside, wear suitable clothing. Layers are particularly good and can be peeled off as you warm up. Investigate some new indoor activities. Dancing, indoor rockclimbing, exercise classes at the local gym, indoor netball are suitable no matter what the temperature. Remember to still keep your fluid levels up as dehydration will still occur in colder temperatures. Asthmatics need to be aware of carrying their inhalers with them as cold air can trigger attacks.
However some misconceptions exist about activity in cold weather .A conversation with my father- in-law last week had him convinced that winter exercise would make him sick. Luckily his GP had reassured him that he would not catch bronchitis by continuing his daily walk in winter. Cold weather will not cause a cold, but also remember that if you are sick, a few days rest will help you recover and quickly return to your fitness regime.