If you’ve been through even one Canadian winter, you know well what the cold weather brings shorter days, longer nights, leaving for work or school in the dark, and later coming home in darkness once again. We all end up with a similar set of feelings - like the cold is going straight through us to our bones. And those who feel that this contributes to an increased frequency of illness over the years aren’t wrong to think so.
It’s tempting to believe that this is merely a part of being human and that there’s nothing to be done but hunker down all winter waiting for the warmer weather to return. The reality is that there are a lot of things that we can do to help reduce and eliminate these cold-weather woes. All that’s needed is a basic understanding of how our bodies work and why our muscles and joints react to colder weather in this way. Then we can easily identify different self-help strategies that will bring our bodies positive results and can help us make the most of it.
Understanding Your Circulatory System
Cold weather dramatically affects how blood flows through our bodies. As one of the body’s critical fluids in maintaining survival, this can pose a number of threats. Countless studies agree that deaths due to strokes, heart attacks, and cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary conditions increase up to 70% during the colder months.
The fact is that it is the change from warmer to colder temperatures - and not the colder temperatures themselves -that is the cause. As the temperature changes, the body goes into a type of extended, low-yield shock in which it has to divert energy in order to maintain a sustainable and healthy bodily temperature. Our blood actually becomes thicker, our blood cells getting ‘stickier’, elevating the likeliness of clotting. When we start to shiver, about a litre of our blood is redirected from our skin to our internal organs. At the same time, our veins and arteries constrict and tighten to conserve heat and keep our blood pumping.
So what can we do to ensure that we’re taking every precaution to promote our circulation as our bodies adapt to colder outside temperatures?
Stay Warm to Optimize Your Circulatory System
By bundling up and ensuring that your environment is warm enough, you can help your circulatory system optimize the flow of blood to all areas of your body and you will ease the constriction of your blood vessels due to cold temperatures.
- Wear extra clothing. If you have trouble keeping your place warm, throw on a scarf or a pair of tights under your jeans. Keep your favourite blanket at the ready.
- Warm-up your environment. If your home or apartment is drafty or struggles to maintain a comfortable temperature, grab a few packages of tea lights or candles at your local dollar store. A single burning candle can generate a surprising amount of thermo-kinetic energy - just be sure to use them safely.
Understanding Your Metabolism
When we talk about our metabolisms, we are referring to a general system that is responsible for regulating every life-essential chemical reaction in the body. The functioning of metabolic systems falls squarely into two categories…
- Catabolism- the action of the body breaking down molecules to obtain energy that it directs to cells and organs where and when it’s needed
- Anabolism- describes the way in which different cells synthesize all of the compounds delivered to them by the catabolic system
In the cold, our metabolism slows down. This can lead to feelings of lethargy or even depression. Plenty of people notice that they start to gain weight as well, creating a vicious cycle. Here are a few easy habits that can help your metabolism fight back…
How to Optimize Your Metabolism for Winter
- Make time to get outside and see if that helps boost your energy. If you feel like your energy levels are getting low, it could have little more to do with your metabolism’s lack of melatonin and vitamin B due to shorter periods of sunlight. Ease into it, and give your body a chance to adjust to colder temperatures before pushing yourself too hard. This will reduce strain on your heart, blood vessels, and lungs.
- Get plenty of rest. Our bodies demand it when colder temperatures set in. Studies have shown that about 60% of us don’t get enough rest during ideal conditions, making it all the more important. When our metabolism slows in this way, they process glucose much more slowly, contributing to the extra weight gain many people experience during the winter months. Try and stick to a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible.
Let’s look a little deeper at the role that fluids play in our bodies’ efforts to keep us healthy…
Understanding Your Lymphatic System
One of the most important parts of the immune system, the lymphatic system does a robust job of protecting the body from disease and infection. Connected to your blood vessels, the lymphatic system is comprised of an extensive system of ‘nodes’ and other organs that work together as an impressive self-defence system, coordinating white blood cells that filter bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other unwanted substances from the body. As a distribution network, the lymphatic system is crucial to maintaining our health. Here’s how to help it continue running optimally in the cold...
Ways to Promote the Healthy Functioning of the Lymphatic System
It is always important to keep your body well hydrated, but getting enough fluids can play a particularly important role during the winter. Treat yourself to plenty of hot drinks once it starts getting cold. It’s a great way to both stay hydrated and warm your body up from the inside. But it may not be enough. Incorporate your intake of fluids with any of the following tips to help give this crucial, disease-fighting system its best chance at keeping you well…
- Try yoga (or at least regular stretching) to promote the circulation of all bodily fluids.
- Reduce your intake of processed foods and alcohol. When your metabolism struggles more than normal with these things, the effectiveness of your circulatory and lymphatic systems are also reduced.
- Exfoliate regularly - this can help the lymphatic system expunge toxins through your skin.
- Alternate between hot and cold showers. This temperature conditioning trick will open and close lymphatic vessels, helping to move stagnant fluids.
- Find ways to reduce stress. Whether it’s getting the kids into more of a routine - signing them up for winter sports in order to give you some more personal time, or taking the extra time indoors to nurture a creative or expressive hobby, activities that inspire us and make us feel good also reduce acids in our bodies that can lead to lymphatic congestion.
So what if you’ve taken all of the steps discussed above and you’re still feeling the effects of the cold? If you’re still reading, we’re betting that you’ve tried some of them already and are still experiencing symptoms. Fortunately, there are a number of therapies that can help.
Let’s look at a few...
Not only is massage therapy a great way to relieve sore and cramped muscles, but it is one of the best ways to promote the circulation of blood and other fluids. It also helps the catabolic system do its job in transporting energy and organic compounds throughout the body.
In fact, massage that helps to drain your body’s many lymph nodes can help reduce scarring after surgery and can help reduce lymphatic swelling during breastfeeding. It has been shown to help combat the effects of stress, enhancing the overall effectiveness of the immune system as well.
When we feel ill or sore, acupuncture has been shown to prompt the body to release natural painkillers. A component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture can restore and maintain health by stimulating various parts of the nervous system - directly impacting our circulatory and metabolic systems, treating a number of ailments including pain and anxiety, in addition to shoulder, neck, and back stiffness.
Furthermore, acupuncture can be very effective in the draining of lymph nodes. By stimulating the organs responsible for the detoxification of our bodies - liver, lymph nodes, and circulatory system - acupuncture can enhance and optimize their functioning. It has also been shown to be an effective booster of our natural resistance to cold and flu viruses.
Mostly, people think of chiropractic therapy as a way to correct musculoskeletal subluxations and adhesions, either due to stress, poor ergonomics at work, or maybe even after an injury, such as the annual slip-and-fall that many of us seem destined to take when the roads and sidewalks get icy.
Qualified chiropractors can also boost the flow rate of your lymphatic system by up to 20%! Through chiropractic therapy, patients often find relief from all manner of ailments that have plagued them for years - many of which were allowed to persist because traditional medicine had let these people and their complex symptoms slip through the cracks.
Because of problems with the lymphatic system concern the effective handling of toxins in the body, there is no shortage of symptoms that can manifest such as painfully swollen glands, infections, and even cancer. Other symptoms might include stiffness and achiness in different parts of the body, lethargy, loss of appetite, and even sores in the mouth and on the skin. Most people do not recognize the connection between their lymph nodes and these disorders and resign themselves to living with them. Often, patients are shocked at the relief that chiropractic therapy brings, sometimes after many years of suffering without effective treatment.
Do you routinely suffer when the weather starts to get colder? Begin by practicing the tips discussed above. If your symptoms persist, we are happy to offer you our services. Contact us today to book a consultation appointment. We will help you determine if you could be a candidate for massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic therapies. With clinics in both Kitchener and Baden, we are available to help.