With fall now upon us, we all know winter is just around the corner. And, while there are many wonderful things about the winter months – skiing, snowmobiling, building snowmen, celebrating the holidays and the New Year – the shorter and colder days can also mean more time spent inside.
Winter blues and seasonal depression are real issues for many people, including the elderly and those who may not be moving as much as they should be. The phrase “move it or lose it!” rings true now more than ever.
Fayez Abdulrahman, an athletic therapist at the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association (CATA) in Calgary, says although we will be spending more time indoors, this is no excuse to not get up and move.
“I’d recommend finding an exercise that mirrors your summer or sports routine for optimal performance even in the ‘off-season.’ Many exercises can be brought indoors. Or, brave the outdoors with your regular walking or running workout for an extra endurance challenge.”
Many studies show the importance of diversifying your activities and reducing the risk of chronic injuries.
“This gives you an opportunity to try new activities and create a winter routine as well,” Abdulrahman adds. “We often experience weight gain as a result of a sudden lack of exercise and movement. Diversify your exercises and include an element of cardio, strength training and flexibility exercises for the best approach, such as running, lifting weights and yoga.”
James Wood agrees. As director of media relations and issues management for the Calgary Zone of Alberta Health Services, he says many tips for staying active in cold weather are offered on the MyAlberta.Health.ca website. Some of these include:
- Going for walks at the mall with a friend. Using a phone app or pedometer to count your steps can help motivate you to walk more.
- Using an online exercise video or smart phone app is a fun way to stay in shape at home.
- Joining a gym or health club. You can use machines like treadmills, stair-climbers or exercise bikes. Try a fitness class or new indoor activity like dancing or water aerobics.
- Get involved in sports leagues in your community or at work. Indoor sports such as basketball, floor or ice hockey, volleyball, indoor soccer or swimming are often offered.
Watch Your Diet
In addition to staying active, it is also important to watch your diet so as not to gain extra weight during the winter.
“We are entering into soup and pumpkin spice latte season!” says Chelsea Verbeek, a registered dietitian at Eatuitive Nutrition, a Calgary company that offers fitness advisor and dietitian services through individualized meal and workout plans.
“Eating homemade soups is a great way to optimize your nutrition because you can add a substantial amount and variety of veggies to them. Be mindful of the bases that you are using for soup by avoiding cream-based soups. Opt for milk- or broth-based instead. That goes for those delicious and sometimes-needed warm drinks in the winter months as well. Ask for milk, choose almond or soy and half the sugar when ordering pumpkin spice lattes or hot cocoas. The calories in drinks can really add up!”
Seasonal Affective Disorder
The cold winter months can also bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year and affects people of all ages.
According to Alberta Health Services, experts aren’t sure what causes SAD, but it may be a lack of sunlight that can upset one’s biological clock, which controls your sleep-wake pattern and other circadian rhythms. Lack of light may also cause problems with serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.
Symptoms can include feeling sad, grumpy, moody or anxious; losing interest in one’s usual activities; eating and craving carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta; gaining weight; trouble concentrating; and sleeping more but still feeling tired.
To diagnose SAD, your doctor may order blood tests so other conditions can be ruled out and also ask you to do a mental health assessment. While it can be treated a number of ways such as through counselling, light therapy and antidepressants, vitamins and good nutritional choices can also provide relief.
“Supplement with 1,000IU of vitamin D daily year-round but especially in the winter months,” advises Verbeek.
“Our bodies naturally create vitamin D from strong UV rays from the sun in the summer, but not during our winters. Studies have shown that Alberta is situated too far away for UV rays to be strong enough for us to produce vitamin D which helps regulate hormone production, mood and is crucial for maintaining and developing strong bones.”
Time to Fix a Broken Health Care System
It’s no surprise to many that Canada’s healthcare system needs a huge revamp, especially after the past two years dealing with the pandemic. We’ve all seen the news reports that show how exhausted health workers are, staff shortages and the backlogs for a variety of surgeries.
According to the Fraser Institute, an independent non-partisan research and educational organization with offices across the country, including Calgary, politicians and policy experts have long warned Canadians about the problem occurring such as physician shortage and the long wait for surgeries. It also pointed out that this has been a systemic problem long before the pandemic.
The Institute suggests that Ottawa needs to allow provinces to experiment with proven solutions based on international experience including policies that are viable within the confines of the Canada Health Act.
Wood says, “We know access to timely and safe surgeries is important to patients and their families and loved ones. That’s why AHS is committed to reducing surgical wait times for Albertans through the Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI), a plan that strives to ensure all Albertans will receive their scheduled surgeries within clinically appropriate wait times. At this time, the total AHS surgical waitlist for adults in the province is about 73,473, compared with about 68,000 in February before the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Abdulrahman says as specialists in orthopedics, athletic therapists are some of the only medical professionals who can work with individuals from the point of injury until they are able to return to a normal routine, whether that is in a sport or not.
“We support the health care system with focused rehabilitation and reconditioning programs and hope to help restore or even improve function and performance to avoid the need for further professional medical care.”
He also says that proper orthopaedic care can also help patients gain strength if they are waiting for surgery. This also improves the recovery process post-surgery and reduces the amount of pain the patient is in.
“The athletic therapist will also ensure what to do and not to do in the case [in the case where a person] is waiting to see a doctor for a medical diagnosis.”