Winter Wellness in the COVID Climate

Every year the cooler weather encourages us to hibernate, most people find themselves moving less and eating more. A variety of different hormones and habits feed this inclination. When there’s less daylight, the balance between your serotonin and melatonin shifts. These hormones regulate various human functions such as sleep, mood and appetite. Circadian rhythms change in the colder months, making it more difficult to summon the motivation to move.

At the same time, lower serotonin can cause cravings for carb-packed comfort foods. For many people, habits created in lockdown support this hibernation. It’s easy to get pretty comfortable at home, particularly if you started the treat-eating at Easter and forgot to stop. But this is no ordinary winter, it’s not the time to get complacent about health. This year it isn’t about maintaining a bikini body for a tropical getaway. It’s about keeping hold of your health to protect our level 2 freedoms, and ultimately to save the health of vulnerable members of our community.

Appropriate exercise has an important role to play. Movement improves immunity by increasing blood circulation. It also improves your ability to manage stress and sleep soundly – both important contributors to remaining illness-free. Under ordinary circumstances it can be good to push yourself a bit, to test out what your body is capable of to encourage adaptation. However, if immunity is your goal then more is not necessarily better. The best type of exercise for health-protection is moderate, regular and enjoyable. 

An optimal exercise plan includes a mix of cardio, strength and flexibility. Cardiovascular exercise is any exercise that increases the work of the heart and lungs. Not only does it burn calories, it also combats a variety of health conditions and diseases, improves mood and boosts energy and endurance. However, there are drawbacks when relying exclusively on cardio for exercise. Repetitive movement patterns can easily cause overuse injuries. Many people left lockdown with niggles and ailments created by a sudden increase in walking and running volume. This is the effect of additional cardio that isn’t balanced by strength training to build strong ligaments and tendons.

Many people found strength training difficult to do through lockdown without access to the gym. It’s natural to have let your strength slide a bit while you enjoyed your outdoor cardio. But now it’s time to address the balance. Strength training improves your structural stability. People who drove a desk through lockdown often spent many more hours than usual in a seated position. Sitting puts stress on all your postural muscles. If you don’t have adequate muscle tone to support you then your body can adapt to the slumped stance as it’s new normal. This can cause neck tension headaches. The other great benefit of strength training is that it builds lean muscle mass which increases your metabolic rate. This means your body burns calories even when you aren’t doing anything. The more lean muscle mass you have, the easier it is to reverse your Covid-kilos without a super-strict diet.

The third key component of a good exercise plan is flexibility. Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint. It is usually the poor cousin of the fitness regime. It is the area that does not directly relate to weight loss, therefore many people do not prioritise it. However, a limber body forms the foundation for your cardiovascular fitness and strength. When your muscles are more pliable you reduce the risk of injury in both your exercise and your everyday life.   

Winter is always a tough time to get motivated to exercise. But this year, health should be of paramount importance to everyone. Appropriate exercise can help you with immunity, resilience and quality of life. We look forward to seeing you back at the gym.

By: , Claire Bellingham of Les Mills Takapuna.

Issue 110 June 2020