Thursday, 10 March 2011

The influence of the weather on the well-being of body and soul

"Bike in December"
Hong Kong


I nearly got my bike out!

Well, I thought about it seriously but I am glad in the end that I left it cosily where it has been since the end of November.

I resisted the urge because although the sun was shining and the cycle-path busier than it has been all winter, when I got to the tram terminus I noticed that the temperature was well below zero. That is still a bit cold for my aching bones.

I used not to be a fair- weather cyclist

When I lived just ten minutes from work I used my bike everyday whatever the weather. There was never the time to get really cold on that trip but now with a thirty-five to forty-five minute journey, depending on traffic lights and my energy levels, there is plenty of time to get frozen right through to the bones when the temperature hits minus twenty! Especially those bones in the knees and fingers!

Now I am counting the days until my stroke group starts their next block. It is not that I am wishing away my life, or that I am not enjoying my current work, or that I am just longing to be doing my favourite work again?

No, my longing for my favourite group is because the stroke group starts later in the morning. I can leave home after eight, by which time the sun could have warmed the air a little and melted the frost and icy puddles just enough for me to be brave and get on my bike!

I have found the last two winters just too cold to cycle but now just as this time last year my body is crying out for fresh air, exercise and a good night’s sleep that come with the reappearance of my trusty bike.

So, maybe at the weekend I will drag the bike up the narrow, white-washed cellar steps, pump up the tyres and have a whirl around the block to check whether I remember how.

Weather and our body and soul

While writing this I am wondering about the influence that the weather has on all of us and how, even during this new cold spell, we are all feeling just a little bit brighter because the sun has been shining and the skies have been vibrant. But there is still no warmth in the early morning rays.

The weather influences us all both physically and psychologically, I think we are all aware of that. But it has a greater influence when we are ill or if we are experiencing physical difficulties.

I remember when there were still metal pins in my healing wrist, that I almost screamed because of the pain that shot through my arm at the moment I went outside when it was below minus ten!

Clients’ weather-related discomfort

Most of my clients speak to me at some point about their symptoms and their well-being in relation to the weather.

The stroke clients often mention how the changes in the weather influence the severity of their symptoms and their feeling of well-being. The spasticity in their limbs, they explain, is much more difficult to relax on days when the weather is changing from crisp and cold to muggy and damp. Or when there are sudden changes in temperature from hot to cold. Humidity and the period of change seem to influence them more than the actual temperature does.

The hot summer temperatures have a greater influence on the feelings of well-being of the MS clients than the stroke clients, as do the freezing arctic conditions of winter.

Clients with multiple sclerosis generally tend to bundle themselves up against the cold, keep themselves in a warm atmosphere as much as they can in the winter months. In hot summer months when the temperatures rise above thirty-five degrees they have to do the opposite in order to maintain an adequate level of energy to go about daily life. Much in the same way as some clients cannot take hot baths for fear of draining their energies and increasing the symptoms that they have, when the summer weather is too hot they remain in the shade.

Many take holidays in the season that has the most negative influences on their health, visiting countries with a climate that best suits their needs.

Of course I should not generalise too much about my clients. We are all different and some clients do not mention any change in symptoms that may be related to the weather. However, my years of experience have shown me that the weather has an influence on many people, including myself. It causes some clients to suffer from worsening symptoms, others are more or less able to influence these symptoms, and some have more or less energy or feel more or less well as the weather changes.

What about the children?

Children too are influenced by the weather but they speak about it less directly. This week one boy told me that he felt really happy because in the hour between school and Petö he had played in the garden with his brother, the blue skies and the sun warmed their souls if not their bodies on that day. I was informed by him that indeed the sun is getting warmer. It probably is at lunch-time but not when I would be getting on my bike!

However much the cold affects the spasticity in the limbs of children most of them who are active enough, or clothed well enough to keep warm, cannot wait to get outside to make snow angels and snowmen. I think the children notice the psychological benefits of the weather more than they notice anything else, and much more than we adults do.

My bike is still in the cellar where it will remain until the morning temperatures hit zero but since the children informed me of the warmth in the midday rays I have been sneaking outside to the bench at lunchtime, armed with a blanket and a steaming cup of tea, to soak some of them up.

Roll on springtime.

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