I used to get out and go cross-country skiing and skating in the winter, but the last few years I just haven’t wanted to bundle up and get out in the cold. Now I’ve built up some inertia as a couch potato. Any ideas to help me get going again this spring?

Your dilemma is certainly understandable. Over the winter, many of us in northern climes go into hibernation, staying indoors as much as possible. If we do go out, many will bundle up, rushing from the workplace to the car to the comforts of home.

As we transition into the spring and summer, there’s no better time to break in the sneakers and get active. Some of the best ways to get moving after a long winter are to disguise the activities within the things you like to do! Here are a few practical suggestions to get you up and on the move again.

Gardening

Not only will gardening get you active, you will also benefit from the relaxation created by repetitive motions and the sights and sounds of nature, often inducing a meditative state. You may decide that this is the year you’ll plant a garden (in your yard or in pots on the balcony) and enjoy the health benefits of a variety of homegrown vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices! Watching your favorite flowers, plants, or foods grow in front of your eyes is very satisfying, and getting active at the same time is always a plus.

Studies have shown that gardening promotes physical health, better nutrition, and boosts mental well-being through relaxation and daily satisfaction. A recent study found that half an hour in the garden can burn up to 200 calories. Additionally, feeling mentally healthy perpetuates a positive cycle, making you feel more energetic to get more physically active throughout the day.

Take a hike (or even a walk around the neighborhood)

Like other forms of exercise, walking can help you lower your LDL cholesterol, raise your HDL cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, manage weight, boost your mood, and keep you looking and feeling fit. Make sure you take the time to warm up for five to 10 minutes and stretch out your muscles after walking or hiking. Monitor your heart rate while you walk so you can increase your intensity over time.

Check your pulse manually at your wrist (radial artery) or neck (carotid artery), or wear an electronic device that displays your heart rate. To increase your cardiovascular workload, use hiking poles—this engages your arms and legs and keeps you more upright while walking.

Dust off your bicycle

When used as a mode of transportation, cycling has been shown to increase physical activity and reduce weight. Data state that countries with the highest levels of cycling and walking have the lowest obesity rates. Research has shown a 35 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes risk with at least 30 minutes of commuting by bike or by foot and an 11 percent reduction in cardiovascular risk. Even leisurely bike rides offer a multitude of health benefits, with the potential to elevate mood and regulate sleep patterns. Look for bike paths in your area—or parks that offer bike lanes—to add this activity to your weekly routine.

Enlist in a fitness boot camp

Not only do boot camps help you build strength and endurance, they offer varied workouts without the need for much (if any) equipment. Working as a group can increase motivation and create a sense of companionship with other participants. Before you join, make sure to ask about the boot camp’s basic structure, goals, and prerequisites to assess if it will be a good fit for you.

Dealing with aches and pains

When starting back into any physical activity program, it is important to listen to your body to prevent injury and treat muscle or joint soreness. Try the following to get relief for sore muscles:

Arnica gel or cream: Apply topically to affected areas twice daily to reduce inflammation, muscle soreness, and sprain-related pain. Research has shown that arnica can reduce pain and stiffness related to osteoarthritis, often working as effectively as ibuprofen. Arnica can also be taken homeopathically to reduce muscle soreness and swelling. Do not ingest the arnica plant, only the homeopathic dilution—arnica can be toxic when ingested, but homeopathic arnica is very diluted and does not have toxic effects.

Epsom salt baths: Epsom salts contain a high amount of magnesium, which absorbs through the skin and into the muscles, reducing muscle cramping and soreness. Add two cups to a daily bath to feel muscle relief. Avoid taking magnesium and muscle relaxant medications at the same time, as magnesium can enhance the function of certain muscle relaxants. Also, be cautious if taking oral magnesium supplements while also doing Epsom salts baths as this has the potential to cause loose stools.

Cayenne pepper: Add 1/4 to one teaspoon of cayenne pepper to two ounces of olive oil and use as an ointment applied directly to sore muscles. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin that acts as an analgesic (it inhibits secretion of “Substance P,” a neurotransmitter that transmits pain signals to the brain), lessening muscle soreness and cramps. Use a small amount of cayenne pepper in the solution to start, and see how your skin reacts. Cayenne is a counterirritant, meaning it brings blood to the surface and removes toxins. This causes “irritation” at the tissue it is applied to, thus distracting from the original irritation (i.e. muscle soreness).

Acupuncture: Studies have shown that acupuncture may significantly relieve pain and reduce the perception of muscle soreness, relieving discomfort. When performed correctly, acupuncture is safe and can provide much-needed relief, helping you get active again more quickly and for longer periods.

Keys to getting active

Getting going in spring should be fun and rewarding, so choose activities you enjoy—whether that’s gardening, hiking, biking, or something else entirely—as you’re more likely to stick to them. Also it is wise to find an exercise partner to help keep you on track and get you out the door. Try a pedometer to keep track of how active you are—set goals based on your number of steps, and aim for 7,000 or more steps per day.

Be sure to start slowly so as to not aggravate any old injuries or push your muscles and joints too far. Remember that your body may not be used to a significant intensity or length of activity, so stop while you’re still feeling good and progressively build.

Do not push through pain. If you experience muscle discomfort, stop what you’re doing, rest the affected area, and try some of the suggestions above to get you back enjoying the activities you love more quickly.

 

Nicola Kempinska, BKin, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor in Burlington, Ontario. Dr. Kempinska practices family medicine, with a special interest in anti-aging medicine, women’s health, and pain management. She has a deep passion for natural health and the body’s ability to heal itself. You can contact Dr. Kempinska at the Cedar Springs Medical Centre at: 905.333.9799.