Winter’s well and truly upon us! As the temperature drops and the weather outside becomes steadfastly more bleak than sunny, sometimes all we feel like doing is rugging up and hibernating for a while, right?
Unfortunately, this could be setting up problems later on! With this in mind, here are some things we need to look out for in helping our elderly Mums and Dads to better handle the colder months as well as improve their physical wellbeing while waiting for warmer spring weather.
Winter aches and pains
Sore, aching joints during winter isn’t myth, it’s the real deal! As the weather gets colder, any condition which affects joints or bones, like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, is commonly felt more acutely. People struggling with swelling or fatigue can also find their symptoms more challenging during winter.
Even though it might not feel great, the most important thing you can do to manage these conditions is to keep moving; the more you rug up and hibernate on the couch, the more stiff and sore you will feel in the long run.
It could be as simple as taking a little walk outside to check the letterbox when the sun peeks out, or walking a lap inside the house during an ad break of your favourite TV show. Really, anything to break it up and keep the motion going. If you’re after a more robust approach, physiotherapy can help find ways to manage the pain while also providing a plan to keep you moving, no matter your current ability.
Winter is the time for seasonal illnesses like the common cold and flu, which can cause a variety of respiratory issues that sometimes hang around for weeks afterwards. Cold, moist air can also be a trigger for respiratory disorders like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It isn’t commonly known, but physiotherapists play a key role in respiratory management, with a variety of techniques and strategies to manage shortness of breath, clear stubborn mucus from the lungs and throat, and breath more easily and effectively.
Exercise not only gets the blood pumping to keep you warm, it also boosts your immune system and cardiovascular health, priming your Mum and Dad to fight off those pesky winter diseases before it even gets a foothold!
Exercise usually means a structured activity, like squats or stretches, joining an exercise class, or cycling on a stationary bike. While simpler tasks like short-distance walking or gardening are still great, they often won’t be at the right intensity to see the greatest benefits.
Here is an article to that outlines the differences between physical activity and exercise.
Dreary weather can take a surprising toll on our mental health too. We’re less inclined to get outside and be among nature, like walking in the park or gardening; we often forgo social catch ups with friends and family, and get less Vitamin D from the sun, all of which can add up to a profound impact on our mental health.
Taking every opportunity is the key during winter, if the sun is peeking out take a chair and sit for 15 minutes, try roll up those sleeves to get some nice sun if it’s not too windy, or maybe now is the time to try your hand at looking after an indoor house plant to bring some nature inside.
Regular exercise and movement releases endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ chemical from your brain, which can help keep the mood positive until the sun starts shining and the wind stops blowing again!
Winter can present an increased risk of falling among older adults: the days are darker, the ground is wet and soft, and we’re bundled up with so many layers to stay warm that we have trouble feeling anything.
Now is a great time to get a physiotherapist to assess your Mum and Dad’s balance and risk of falling, even if they haven’t had a fall yet. If need be, a comprehensive program can be implemented to address the risks and improve their chances of preventing a fall in the future.
The Physio Co strives to keep seniors mobile, safe, and happy wherever they call home, and can make personalised assessments and exercises around whatever the weather throws at us.
Call 1300 797 793 or email he[email protected] to organise a visit rain, hail, or shine!
Article written by Jarrod Kohlhagen, TPC physiotherapist