For many, winter brings about the longing for hibernation. While hibernation is an effective survival tactic for bears, it does not offer the same benefits to humans. Bears hibernate because there is a lack of food in the natural environment and they need to conserve energy – not because it is cold and “Game of Thrones” is on TV.
So how can we motivate ourselves to stay active in the winter?
Eighty-nine year old Dick Van Dyke was recently interviewed on the CBC about his book, Keep Moving. As the title suggests, the book encourages people to stay active throughout the lifespan, not to lose weight, but to maintain independence and health as long as possible. He joked that his motivation for exercise continues to change – looking good in his thirties, staying fit and dancing in his fifties, remaining ambulatory in his seventies and avoiding assisted living in his eighties!
In the winter, remaining active is challenging. Not only is it cold and dark outside, but a greater risk of falling. A third of adults over the age of 65 fall at least once per year. As you age, you are more prone to injury and less able to recover from falls. Here are some things you can do to prevent falls:
• Exercise regularly – loss of lower limb strength is a risk factor for falling.
• Have your medications reviewed. Some can make you more prone to falling.
Have your vision checked yearly.
• Make safer choices.If it is icy, walk at the mall, the arena or on a treadmill. If you want to go outside, buy ice cleats to attach to the bottom of your shoe.
If you are prone to falling, consider a cane or walker. Use the railing when walking down stairs and don’t walk with your hands in your pocket.
• Winter usually lasts at least a third of the year, so it should not be a reason to forgo exercise. Remember that exercise is not only about preventing chronic disease and weight gain, but about preserving your mobility and independence.
If you are prone to hibernation in the winter, remember that although bears do not exercise in the winter, they also do not eat any food!
– Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.