Wintertime Is No Excuse For Hibernation

Summer 2014 was just fabulous here in the UK but all too soon the inclement weather is once again upon us, so it’s time to prepare our bodies for the onslaught!  Caring for our skin, particularly facial skin is vital during the winter, both men and women need protection from the extreme temperatures and over exposure to cold winds and rain.  Indoors the heat and dryness of fires and central heating during the winter months are hard on our skin.

Facial skin in particular can suffer from over exposure to the elements when we are outdoors.  During winter this can be quite uncomfortable and unfortunately as we age the problem seems to get worse.  How well (or badly) our skin ages depends mostly on genetics and skin type.   10% of skin ageing is intrinsic – and out of our control, and we can look at our parents to see how we might appear in later life.   However, other factors which age skin are extrinsic – and under our control!  These include exposure to the sun and wind, smoking, alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise.

People who have looked after themselves usually have healthy skin, and look years younger than they actually are in later life.  However, all skin will eventually show some signs of ageing and will be subject to the forces of gravity.  Unfortunately the two main components of our skin, collagen and elastin, decrease with age, causing our skin to sag, resulting in lines and wrinkles.

From 40 years onwards our skin becomes thinner, drier and more uneven, and from our 50’s we notice a lack of firmness with our faces beginning to look longer, especially the jowls, eyelids and the nose. As we continue to age our bones shrink, and the skin and the muscles around them begin to sag. This is particularly noticeable in someone who has lost weight.

Skin reflects our lifestyle and many things we take for granted can contribute to the ageing process – such as stress, smoking, over exposure to the elements, poor diet and lack of sleep.  A huge 80% of the preventable premature ageing is caused by exposure to the sun or by smoking.  Age spots, coarse wrinkles, skin of a leathery texture and small broken blood vessels are the end result.

To keep our skin looking good throughout the winter time we need to keep our bodies hydrated and working efficiently by drinking plenty of water to combat the drying effect of those winds and central heating.  Try to drink 6-8 glasses of liquids a day to replace lost fluids. Remember water is the difference between the plump skin of a plum and the dry shriveled skin of a prune.  Both are the same fruit!

Even in the wintertime it helps to keep your skin comfortable by applying a moisturising day cream and feeding it a nourishing night cream while you sleep. If you intend spending long periods outdoors exposed to the elements, doing the gardening, playing sport or out of necessity working, don’t neglect your skin.

It’s important to apply creams and lotions containing SPF (sun protection factor) to reduce damage – even from winter sunlight. Moisturising and feeding are essential for middle aged and older skins in order to replace the natural oils that dry up as part of the ageing process.  They can help the skin to retain suppleness and a healthy glow.

During the cold winter months it’s important to continue being physically active because exercise is essential to keep your body fit and strong.  For the average person the more varied the activities the more beneficial.  For example an exercise plan which includes treadmill, weights and swimming, performed at any time of the day that suits one’s lifestyle is going to prove beneficial.

Regular, moderate activity can enhance the immune system at the same time as benefiting the body by strengthening bone and muscle.  It helps to maintain suppleness and build stamina and all regular exercise will do more good than harm.  And of course any activity is better than being inactive by doing no exercise at all!

However, do remember the basic exercise rules: warm up thoroughly, increase exercise gradually and build up intensity and repetitions slowly. Always stop if you feel any pain and after activity always ensure a gentle warm down. Even in the coldest weather try to get out into the fresh air when you can, to exercise, garden or just take the dog for a walk!

It’s best to avoid any vigorous exercise before bedtime because in both summer and winter time a good night’s sleep is important for our wellbeing.  The average adult needs 8 hours sleep a night, although some will need more and others less sleep.  However around 1 in 10 people in the UK suffer from insomnia, many resorting to sleeping pills with more than 10 million prescriptions written out every year.

The human body functions according to a circadian rhythm, thought to be controlled by a biological clock located in part of the brain called the hypothalamus.  There are several disorders of our circadian rhythm which can affect our sleep patterns and as a consequence control just how we function during the day. So what can we do to help ourselves if we do have a sleep problem?

We can start by creating a sleep friendly environment in order to encourage a good night’s sleep.  I always find I have a better night’s sleep in a cooler room, so opening your bedroom windows (at least for a few hours before you retire) and making your bedroom a calm and tranquil space will help.  The darker the room the better you’ll sleep and some people find covering their eyes with a mask does the trick.

It’s not always possible to get to bed at a regular time, as I know from my own personal experience, but do try if at all possible to get to bed at the same time each night.  If you can set your body clock to a regular time, even including the weekends, it will improve your sleep pattern.  You should then naturally wake up around the same time if you are getting enough sleep.  So avoid the temptation of having a nap during the day which is guaranteed to upset this pattern.

Alcohol before bed may well help you nod off quickly, but will wake you later in the night and disturb your sleeping pattern.  Instead of that alcoholic night cap try a glass of milk instead.  Far more beneficial, since dairy products contain the amino acid tryptophan, which encourages the production of the brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin, which helps us go to sleep.

And finally this winter it may pay you to start a new routine by making dinnertime earlier in the evening, and to avoid eating heavy, rich foods within two-hours of your bed time.  Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and this could keep you from a good night’s rest.  And be careful when it comes to eating your favourite spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn, keeping you awake.

Sleeping pills and some natural supplements may provide a short term solution to insomnia but if you continue to have disturbed nights talk to your Doctor about getting medical help to improve your sleeping pattern.   But Wintertime is no time for hibernation, nor is it a time for excuses – so keep active, be well and enjoy the long, cosy winter months!