Just at a time when we are supposed to be starting a New Year full of vim and vigour, losing weight, abstaining from alcohol and beginning a new exercise regime, we are also facing the deep, dark dreary days of winter. For many of us – and in particular for those who live alone or have mobility problems – the days can seem long and lonely.
Setting some challenges with easily attainable goals give each day a focus and can help you feel more positive. Based on experience and listening to thousands of older people, here are my top ten tips to get through the dark days of winter.
Start the day with a stretch
You can even do a few stretches in bed before you get up. Reach your arms up and out with an exaggerated yawn; bring your toes up towards your shins then down towards the bed; stretch and gently curl your fingers and toes; bring your shoulder blades inwards to stretch your chest; then stretch out like a cat lengthening through from top to toe.
Take a deep breath
It sounds obvious but many of us forget to breathe properly using our shoulders instead of our diaphragm. Just two minutes can make a big difference to get oxygen to your brain and focus on the sensation of breathing properly. To use your diaphragm to breathe needs a little concentration at first. If you lie on your back with a light book or newspaper placed on your tummy (just below your ribs), then look to see the book rise up a little as you breathe in then fall as you breathe out. Don’t try to breathe too deeply at first, just focus on breathing in for 3 and out for 4; as you improve see if you can increase this to breathing in for 4 and out for 6 or find a pattern to suit you.
Little and often really works when it comes to improving your balance so finding a trigger – such as putting the kettle on – is a great way to remind you to do this every day. Hold onto the kitchen work surface and raise your heels, hold for 10 seconds then lower them back slowly. Over time try to do this without holding on (if it’s safe for you to do so) and build up the length of time you can hold. When you’re ready, move onto more challenging balances like these challenging balances like these
Boost your immune system
My mum, who lived to be 92, ate a bowl of fruit salad with natural yogurt every day! But not all of us feel like eating fruit in the winter so a great way to get vitamins in a jiffy is to make an immune boosting smoothie. Using frozen berries and fruit helps ensure you’re getting lots of vitamins without any waste – just let the smoothie reach room temperature if you don’t fancy drinking it cold. Try combinations to find your favourite and include berries, kiwi, spinach, carrots, turmeric and ginger and add natural yogurt to boost your calcium too.
Many of the older people I’ve worked with say they don’t always feel like making an effort when there’s only one to cook for, but that they love a nice bowl of soup at lunchtime. It’s a great idea to make enough soup to last a few days so lunch can be nutritious and warming. Any brightly coloured veg will add carotenoids such as carrots, peppers, sweet potato and butternut squash; or go green for antioxidants such as spinach, broccoli and kale with a little garlic or chilli.
Music for the mind
For those living alone, it’s so easy to leave the TV on all day so the house isn’t silent. Many of my class members have told me how they set aside a little time each day to listen to their favourite music instead and look forward to this daily treat. Music has the power to lift our mood, energise us, transport us into another world or easy our anxieties. It’s even better if we move to the music too which lead onto the next tip nicely.
For almost everyone, music makes us want to move. Just watch how young children react when they hear a beat; it’s an innate response which we tend to lose as our inhibitions take over. I know many people who join our classes are worried that they will look silly or feel embarrassed, but there’s no right or wrong about it, just go with the flow and enjoy moving to the rhythm. Dance is fantastic for our hearts, strength, balance, flexibility and mood so a daily dose is a great tonic.
Pick up the phone
Loneliness has a real affect on our physical health causing a rise in cortisol and inflammation which can lead to many health problems. There are so many wonderful charities that offer opportunities to meet up with others such as Royal Voluntary Service and Age UK although most people are not able to get out every day. Just being able to pick up the phone and have a chat helps. For those without family or friends to natter with there’s Silverline who offer weekly friendship calls. If you’re able, donating your time to give someone a ring and offer friendship benefits you as a volunteer and the recipient.
Join a group
The benefits of joining a group are amazing and many of our class members say it’s the highlight of their week. There’s an added bonus if it includes a physical activity and even better if there’s music involved too. Joining together to move and feel part of a group gives a sensation of flow and accomplishment, the time just flies by and everyone leaves feeling brighter and better than when they came. The key is to find something you enjoy, that offers an element of challenge but also one you can achieve – this can lead on to greater confidence and self-efficacy. There are so many things to try and you’re always welcome at a Move it or Lose it! class, find your nearest class here.
Thank you. Love your emails. Always inspiring. Just wish there was a class in my home town (Hitchin) but have your DVD for a jolly workout, so that helps.