Movement is a powerful medicine.
To escape the final grips of winter, my wife and I decided to take our three boys south to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. While the destination was high on our family bucket list, winter cabin fever definitely pushed us south.
Being Canadian, we take pride in making the most of the cold weather. But this winter tested our commitment to the season. We often stayed indoors, choosing self-preservation over braving the extreme cold. Our outdoor Family Day weekend plans certainly changed when the backyard thermometer read -30.
But this hibernation comes with a cost. Staying warm indoors usually results in a general decrease in physical activity. And a growing body of evidence suggests that spending too many hours sitting is hazardous to our health. Habitual inactivity raises the risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among other things.
The warmth and promise of spring kickstarts a more active lifestyle for many Canadians. After weeks of shivering through the polar vortex, people's desire to get outdoors and active will be strong this year.
But tempering your spring enthusiasm with a little patience goes a long way toward preventing injuries. Each year, I see a surge of acute injuries in my chiropractic practice from people tackling too much, too quickly as the thermometer creeps above zero.
Recognize that your body may be ill-prepared to tackle the outdoors right out of the gate. Pace yourself. And take steps to avoid injury.
Consider the following "movement prescription" as your spring training for the next six weeks. These daily practices should be pain free. If not, follow up with your team of health professionals to tweak the routine.
Step 1: Buy a step-counter pedometer and start walking.
Carve out 30 minutes every day to walk. Walk at a comfortable pace and wear good shoes. Don't worry about how far you go at first – just focus on the time. Break the 30 minutes into shorter blocks if you find half an hour at once too challenging. The most important thing is to increase your activity level beyond what you were doing before.
Record your daily steps for a week, calculate your daily average and mark this number as your starting point. Walk an extra 1,000 steps daily each week for the next six weeks.
For example, if your daily average was 3,000 steps in week one, by week two you will make taking 4,000 steps a day your target. Gradually increase your daily average toward the goal of 10,000 steps.
Step 2: Following your walk, do these eight exercises.
1. Ankle ABCs: Sit on a chair. Lift your right foot off the ground and, using your big toe as a pointer, write the alphabet out in the air, moving from the ankle joint. Repeat with the left foot.
2. Single leg stance: Stand. Lift your right foot slightly off the floor in front of you, bending your knee. Balance on your left leg. Hold for 60 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
3. Heel raises: Stand. Rise up onto your toes, lifting your heels off the ground. Pause, then slowly lower back to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
4. Standing calf stretch: Stand facing a wall. With your hands on the wall, extend your right leg straight back, keeping your heel on the ground. Feel the stretch in the back of your lower leg. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat with the left leg. Stretch each leg three times.
5. Mini-squats: Stand with your hands on your thighs. Hinge forward at your hips and bend your knees to lower your buttocks (10 to 15 centimetres) as though you were moving to sit in a chair. Keep your heels down and your knees in line with your feet. Return to standing position and repeat 10 times.
6. Alternating hamstring curls: Stand. Bend your right knee, bringing your heel toward your buttocks, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. Repeat 10 times a leg.
7. Kneeling hip-flexor stretch: Stand. Step forward with your right foot, bending the knee at a 90-degree angle and placing your right foot on the floor. Lunge forward, feeling the stretch in the front of the left thigh. Repeat three times on each leg.
8. Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back. Holding your right leg with both hands behind your thigh, lift your right foot toward the ceiling with your leg straight.
Feel the stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat on the left side. Stretch each leg three times.
Enjoy the first signs of spring. Just make sure that one of them is not you, back on the couch, nursing an acute muscle injury. You want to spring into the season, not limp sadly over winter's finish line.
Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.
Dr. Dwight Chapin, B.Sc(H)., D.C., is the clinic director of High Point Wellness Centre in Mississauga, team chiropractor for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts and on-site clinician for employees of The Globe and Mail. Follow him on Twitter @HighPtWellness.