It's that time of year when we throw out the old, acquire some new, clean up what exists and organize what remains.
Historically, the concept of spring cleaning has been applied to our houses, but moving forward it should also include our bodies.
The winter months can wreak havoc on our physical structure – often encouraging inactivity, muscular imbalance, overall weakness and the accumulation of "possessions" (yes, fat cells) that we may want to shed as the weather improves.
It's time to nurture ourselves by cleaning up our fleshy soul temples in preparation for the sun and fun that lies ahead.
Use these five tips to focus on a new ritual that caters to your genetic code instead of just your postal code.
Shut down your Netflix
Winter blues can often lead to binge watching your favourite TV series. It seems as though this could negatively affect your health – even if you are active. A 2008 study from the Journal of Medical Science and Sports Exercise found that in a population of healthy Australian adults who met the public health guideline of 150 minutes of physical activity a week, television-viewing time was still positively associated with a number of metabolic risk variables.
The fix: The take-away message is not necessarily to increase the top end of your physical activity, but instead to replace TV time with other low-intensity activities that are less passive and avoid sitting for long periods.
Balance the hips
For those of us who avoided the slopes and rinks this winter in favour of a warm drink and a good book, prolonged hibernation can lead to muscular atrophy, pelvic misalignment and a weaker midsection. In fact, according to a 2007 study in the journal Spine, the deep muscles in the lower back began to atrophy after just 14 days of bed rest. Associated weakness combined with a hiked or twisted pelvis can throw off the balance of the surrounding muscles and, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, has been linked to lower back pain in some studies.
The fix: Stand in front of a mirror and place your thumbs on top of your hip bones. Compare left to right and determine if one side is significantly higher than the other. Now stand next to a wall with the higher hip and leg pressed against it. Reach up to the sky with your arm overhead and then gently lean away from the wall while maintaining hip contact. Hold for 30 seconds and check the hips again. Repeat as needed.
Restore the core
A 2011 study from the European Spine Journal found that bridging the hips up while relying on one leg at a time led to more one-sided activation of the core muscles than doing bridges off both feet at once.
The fix: This is a great way to make sure that your core and hips build balanced strength after a winter of decreased activity. Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Draw your belly button in toward your spine, push your heels into the floor and slowly lift your hips without excessively arching the low back. Squeeze your butt at the top and slowly shift 30 per cent more weight to one leg without dropping or twisting the hips. Hold 10 seconds and switch. Repeat three to six times.
Before hitting the ground running
Spring arrives and the streets suddenly become filled with masses of neon-clad runners sprinting back into activity with the best of intention. The problem is most of them didn't prepare their ankles and feet for the impact on hard asphalt. According to a review article in the Sports Medicine Journal, medial tibia stress syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis are the main running-related musculoskeletal injuries. All of these injuries have associations to a running foot position that lands either all on the outside, excessively dumps in or both actions in rapid succession of each other.
The fix: Shift the weight to the outside of the heel and put pressure down on the outer edge while standing. Next, try to keep heel pressure while pressing the big toe down into the floor as well. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Build up endurance to 90 seconds and then apply this cross-pattern foot position to balance work.
Kick-start your glutes
After a prolonged period of sitting and overall inactivity, the hips and quads can become tight as the supporting glute muscles become weak. Walking and running without proper glute activation can lead to pain. In a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, researchers found that activity of the gluteus medius muscle was significantly higher during use of an ankle weight representing 1 per cent of body-weight compared with 0 per cent. The muscle activity during gait with the 2 per cent of body-weight load was higher than during gait with the 0 per cent vertical load, but lower than during the gait with the 1 per cent vertical load.
The fix: Add an ankle weight with 1 per cent of body weight and start slowly with 15-20 minute walks twice a week to get a baseline.
Alex Allan, a registered kinesiologist specializing in rehabilitation management and return to sport/life demands, is based out of the Kin Studio in Toronto.