A leading osteopath who can be found weekly at The College Practice on Highgate Road, Austin Plunkett manipulates dodgy backs and realignes achy hips, as well as working in a research capacity for the National Council for Osteopathic Research (NCOR).
“Osteopathy came into being as a reaction against the orthodox medicine of the 1850s in the USA,” he says. “Back then the pharmacology was very crude and tended to kill people as much as it ever cured them. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathy, believed there had to be a better way. A systematic and holistic approach to a patient’s entire body is the way to optimum health.”
So who better to ask about keeping our bodies in top shape during the gruelling colder months? Here are his top tips for staying fit.
1. Warm up before you move in the cold
The human body is generally strong. We’re well adapted through millions of years of evolution to be generalists rather than specialists. But, if you haven’t done an activity for a while, such as sweeping up leaves, there’s certainly the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness. Luckily, it will go after about three days; meanwhile, icepacks are useful, but don’t place them directly on the skin or use them for more than 15 mins at a time. To avoid this, and more serious sprains, try warming up by emulating the activity you are about to go through, slowly increasing the intensity of the movement. Get the heart-rate up so you are slightly out of puff. Then, when working in the garden, try to make the movement using your big muscle groups, keeping your back straight and remembering to bend at the hips and knees together.
2. Bask in vitamin D
Our vitamin D levels really slump over winter in a country such as the UK as we experience weaker sunlight levels. It’s a natural process, however in recent years researchers have discovered that low levels can lead to all kinds of problems, including muscular aches and pains. You might also experience a low mood (known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD) and your partner may find you’re being a bit grumpy or down. Try to get as much sun as you possibly can, or perhaps get an SAD lamp from a reputable dealer for a decent dose of the correct light. I’m no dietician, but will always suggest people supplement their vitamin D levels somehow: see a GP for the correct advice.
3. Let wearable tech motivate you
In winter people naturally do a lot less activity. It’s cold and we don’t like exposure, but actually it’s good for us get out and embrace it. A run in the cold is invigorating and, for women in their 30s and 40s especially, having some regular impact through the legs is incredibly beneficial in maintaining bone density in the approach to menopause. If you feel you’re putting on a couple of pounds this season, that’s fairly usual, but I’d suggest investing in fitness monitor to see if that helps motivates you. There’s no concrete evidence yet that they improve health or not, but setting a personal goal, such as 10k steps a day, can be a fun challenge. You may find that your smartphone is already tracking your steps via its inbuilt pedometer, and there are plenty of other new fun wearable tech gizmos to play with too.
4. Take a holistic approach to your health
Osteopaths like me specialise in musculoskeletal problems, but a broad understanding of the day-to-day lives of our patients is also essential. It’s all very well for me to tell someone with long-term knee pain that they need to exercise it, but if they don’t like gym or are too scared to ride a bike, I need to work on a solution that is realistic for them. Likewise I’m always thinking about their nutrition, and how to tailor their preferred diet into a plan that works towards optimum health. Whether setting out to get – and stay – fit, remember that the psychological and social side to your health and wellbeing is equally important as the physical and bio-mechanics stuff.