Kentish Towner article
The Kentish Towner free paper has very kindly run an article featuring some advice from me. Unfortunately my advice has become somewhat mangled in the editing process. I do appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed, however it's important to me that my words are accurately reported. Consequently, here's the version that I cleared, which they declined to use. Even this version has taken my words slightly out of context, but I appreciate that journalists tend to exaggerated wording for the sake of a story. (For instance, I wouldn't describe myself as a "leading osteopath" or explain stretching as "literally unwinding", nor would I talk about "slipping a disc" because discs don't slip… but hey ho.)
Austin Plunkett is a leading osteopath who can be found weekly in Kentish Town at The College Practice on Highgate Road. As well as manipulating dodgy backs and mobilising achy hips, he also works in a research capacity for the National Council for Osteopathic Research (NCOR) and he would love anyone who has benefited (or otherwise) from osteopathic treatment to fill in the feedback form about their experience here: www.ncorpreos.org.uk
"Osteopathy came into being as a reaction to the orthodox medicine of the 19th century in the USA," he says of the discipline. "Back then the pharmacology and surgery were very rudimentary and the side-effects were often fatal. Andrew Taylor Still – the founder of osteopathy – believed there had to be a better way. I'm a firm believer that a systematic, personalised approach is the way to optimum health."
So who better to ask about keeping our bodies in top shape during the gruelling colder months ahead? Here are Austin's top tips for staying fit this winter.
How to: warm up before you move in the cold
The human body is generally strong. We're well adapted through millions of years of evolution to be generalists rather than specialists. But, if you haven't done an activity for a while, such as sweeping up leaves, there's certainly the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness. Luckily, it will go after about three days, meanwhile ice-packs are useful, but don't place them directly on the skin or use them for more than 10 mins at a time. To avoid this, and more serious sprains, try warming up by emulating the activity you are about to go through, slowly increasing the intensity of the movement. Get the heart-rate up so you are slightly out of puff. Then when working in the garden, try to make the movement using your big muscle groups, keeping your back straight and remembering to bend at the hips and knees together.
How to: bask in vitamin D
Our vitamin D levels really slump over winter in a country such as the UK as we experience weaker sunlight levels. It's a natural process, however in recent years researchers are beginning to suspect that low vitamin D levels can lead to all kinds of problems, including muscular aches and pains. As the days get shorter, you might also experience a low mood (known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD) and friends may find you're being a bit grumpy or down. Generally try to get as much sun as you possibly can, or perhaps get an SAD lamp from a reputable dealer for a decent dose of the correct light. I occasionally suggest people consider supplementing their vitamin D levels somehow – just make sure you see a GP for the correct advice.
How to: hit the slopes without slipping a disc
With winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, you're suddenly using your body in unusual ways, so you need to be mindful of any existing injuries and speak to an expert about these before you go. Strengthening exercises such as lunges and squats are good for skiing. Increase resistance steadily at the gym, or by using bands or even just a heavy rucksack at home. Snowboarding is an asymmetrical sport, where use of the body is unbalanced, as it is with one-handed pursuits like golf and tennis, so you may benefit from stretching dynamically and rhythmically in the opposite direction afterwards, to feel relaxed and literally to unwind.
How to: Let wearable tech motivate you
In winter people naturally do a lot less activity. It's cold and we don't like exposure, but actually it's good for us get out and embrace it. A run in the cold is invigorating and, for women in their 30s and 40s especially, having some regular impact through the legs is incredibly beneficial in maintaining bone density and muscle strength in the approach to menopause. If you feel you're putting on a couple of pounds this season, that's fairly usual, but I'd suggest investing in fitness monitor to see if that helps motivates you. There's no concrete evidence yet that they improve health or not, but setting a personal goal, such as 10k steps a day, can be a fun challenge. You may find that your smartphone is already tracking your steps via its inbuilt pedometer, and there are plenty of other new fun wearable tech gizmos to play with too.
How to: Take a holistic approach to your health
Osteopaths like me specialise in musculoskeletal problems, but a broad understanding of the day-to-day lives of our patients is also essential. It's all very well for me to tell someone with long-term knee pain that they need to exercise it, but if they don't like gym or are reluctant to ride a bike on the streets of London, I need to discuss a solution that is realistic for them. Likewise I may discuss how to tailor their preferred diet into a plan that supports their lifestyle. Whether setting out to get – and stay – fit, remember that the psychological and social side to your health and wellbeing is equally important as the physical and bio-mechanics stuff.