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15/Jul/2021

Staying active in winter

I love the idea of winter… cosy evenings on the couch reading a book, lying in bed on a Sunday morning listening to the rain, hearty soups for lunch with scrummy bread. Love, love, love. The reality however…well, that kind of sucks at times.

Trying to stay warm without energy bills skyrocketing. Trying to maintain a healthy weight range when I’m cooking lots of comfort foods. And the big one – keeping up the momentum when it comes to exercising.

It can be tough when it’s cold, dark and wet to brave the elements for a walk. Or to head out to the gym when a perfectly good couch is sitting there all warm and snug.

But we need to exercise. It’s vital in the management of our musculoskeletal conditions, our pain levels and our weight. Being active every day helps us get better quality sleep, and it improves our mood. It also helps us manage our other health conditions. And it gets us out of the house so we can connect with others – our friends, teammates, gym buddies, and other people walking their dog in the park.

Knowing all of that doesn’t make it easy though, so here are some strategies to help you get out there:

Dress the part

Your warm-weather exercise gear may not cut it when it comes to exercising in winter. You need to think layers. The clothes closest to your skin should draw moisture away from the skin (known as wicking) so that your skin doesn’t stay damp. It should also dry quickly. Look on the labels for mention of wicking or polypropylene, not cotton.

Then add an insulating layer of fleece or wool to keep you warm. Finally, add a layer that will resist wind and rain. The beauty of layers is you can take them off and put them back on if/when you need to. Choose bright colours so you’ll be seen even on the dullest, greyest days, through the fog and rain.

Next, you need to wear appropriate socks and footwear for the activity you’re doing – hiking boots, running shoes, walking shoes, gym shoes – they’re often not interchangeable.

It’s preferable for shoes you’ll be wearing outdoors to be waterproof or dry quickly. And make sure they have good traction – it can get very slippery out there! If you’ve got old shoes from last winter, check the soles to ensure they’re still ok.

It’s also a good idea to wear sock liners when hiking to wick moisture away from the skin and prevent blisters.

Finally, protect your extremities. Wear gloves (this is a must if you have Raynaud’s), a hat that covers your ears, sunglasses and sunscreen. Even in winter, your skin can be damaged by the sun’s rays.

Oh – and depending on your activity – don’t forget to take a lightweight backpack or bag for your water bottle and to store any of the layers you remove.

And one last thing – have a warm shower and get changed out of wet, damp clothes as soon as you get home, so you don’t become chilled. This can very quickly cause tense muscles, leading to pain. And no one wants that!

Stretch it out

Don’t just rush out the door if you’re in a hurry to get your exercise over and done with. Take time to warm up your muscles, and loosen up. Especially if you’re already feeling stiff. This will help prevent muscle strain and pain. Read ‘Effective winter warm up exercises’ from Diabetes NSW for more info.

Be careful of surfaces

Slips, trips and falls are enemies of anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. So we need to take care out there. Uneven surfaces, wet leaves or mud on footpaths and trails, slick tiles at the shopping centre or gym – they can all be treacherous. So be aware of the surfaces you’re walking, running, skipping or jumping on, and take care.

Choose activities you enjoy

It’s much easier to be active – whatever the weather – if you’re doing something you enjoy.

And mix it up

Trying new activities is fun and challenging all at the same time. And who knows? You may discover a new activity that you love. There’s so much out there to try:

  • bushwalking
  • rock climbing
  • dancing
  • Frisbee/football in the park with the kids/dog/friends
  • kayaking
  • joining a sports team – e.g. basketball, netball, footy, calisthenics
  • golf
  • gardening
  • yoga
  • swimming/water aerobics
  • boxing
  • cycling
  • skiing
  • trampolining.

The sky’s the limit!

Check with the Bureau of Meteorology

Before you head out, check with BOM to find out the weather forecast. And don’t forget to check the rain radar. That’ll help you dress appropriately and may also affect your timing. If you like walking in the rain, you may decide to head out regardless. But if you’re not a fan, the radar will give you an idea of when to go (just don’t forget your umbrella – just in case ☔).

Exercise indoors

If you’re not a fan of exercising in cold and wet weather, there are lots of ways you can exercise indoors. Join a gym, follow exercise classes online in the comfort of your lounge, do laps around your shopping centre, dance in your lounge room, jump rope, use a hula hoop, chase the kids, hit the indoor swimming pool, clean the house. There are many options for being active indoors.

Play some tunes…

Or podcasts to keep you motivated. Listening to upbeat, fast-paced music will help you move at a quicker pace, giving you a better workout. And podcasts can capture your attention and help you keep going. Especially if you’re hooked, and you’re bingeing one! Then it’s a matter of making sure you don’t overdo it (speaking from experience on this one!).

Drink water

Even though you may not be sweating as much as you would be on a hot day, your body is still losing water through your sweat and breathing. Take a water bottle with you and drink when you need to.

Set yourself a goal

If you’re still finding it hard to get motivated, set yourself a goal. It may be something like losing a certain amount of weight, being able to walk a certain distance without being out of breath or taking part in an upcoming fun run/walk. Choose something that matters to you, and make sure it’s a SMART goal – that is, it’s Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Timeframe. Read more about goal setting.

Reward yourself

When you’ve committed to exercising, and you’re actually doing it, congratulate yourself. It’s no small thing! Especially when it’s not only cold and miserable out, but you live with a chronic, often painful condition. So treat yourself. Give yourself a massage (or better still, have someone else massage you), have a warm bath or soak your feet, see a movie you’ve been wanting to see. Choose something that makes you feel good, and be proud of your achievements.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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03/Jun/2021

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” ― Bob Marley

This morning I was sitting at my computer in my makeshift home office, looking out at the bleak Melbourne weather and contemplating a week of a whole lot of nothing. Yep, at the time of writing Victoria was entering a seven-day circuit breaker lockdown.

I could hear the radio in the next room and noticed the station had brought back the Lockdown Countdown. This is a daily uplifting ‘blast from the past’ song to help us get through the latest lockdown. It’s not the bright pop of Tay-tay or Bieber, but ‘OMG, I LOVE THIS SONG, crank the volume and sing at the top of your lungs’ music. A new song is played each day. Today’s song was Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. 

And I realised I was smiling as I went through my emails, and I was singing aloud.

Music is a powerful force we often don’t think about – or at least not too deeply. It’s always there, often in the background. But music can improve our mood, help us focus, get motivated and even ease our pain.

So let’s take a closer look at the power of music. And of course, this is a blatant opportunity to listen to great music and watch videos – all in the interests of research of course. 😊

Everybody hurts (R.E.M): Music and pain

Numerous research studies have confirmed what many of us have long believed – listening to music or creating music can ease our pain. However we don’t really understand exactly how it works. We do know that listening to music releases dopamine, a chemical made in the brain. It’s often called the ‘feel-good hormone’ and is released when we experience something pleasurable, such as food, exercise, sex and music.

Music also distracts us. It has the power to shift our focus from our pain to something else, such as singing, humming, dancing, or remembering the first time we heard a piece of music. Depending on the level of our pain, music may be enough on its own to help distract us, or used with other pain management strategies such as exercise, medication, heat and cold packs, or massage to get through the worst of our pain.

But at the end of the day, it’s a pleasurable, low/no cost, treatment for pain.

I’m so tired (Kasabian): Music and sleep

Many of us struggle with getting a good night’s sleep – whether it’s falling asleep, staying asleep and/or getting enough quality sleep to wake up refreshed. https://www.msk.org.au/sleep/ Anxiety, pain, stress and an overactive mind can all have an effect on how well we sleep.

If this sounds familiar, try listening to some music.

We know it works – we’ve used lullabies for millennia to help put babies to sleep.

Listening to music as you fall asleep can slow your breathing and calm your mind. Adding music to your nightly routine can help you sleep better and reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep. It can also distract you from your pain, and counteract any outside noises that may interrupt your sleep, such as traffic or noisy neighbours.

Choose music that you enjoy and find soothing – nothing too fast or upbeat! – and create your own sleep playlist. Or there are many ready-made sleep playlists you can try on streaming apps such as Spotify or Apple Music.

Fake happy (Paramore): Music, stress and anxiety

Anxiety and depression are common in people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. The good news is that many treatment options can help you reduce their impact on your life. One of these treatments is music.

Listening to music can lower blood pressure and slow down the heart rate – both of which are heightened in times of stress and anxiety. Music can also make us cry – which is sometimes the outlet we need to deal with strong feelings.

To get the most out of the music, take the time to ‘actively listen’ to it. Put away all of your usual distractions (e.g. phone) and focus on the music – the lyrics, the tempo, the instruments and how it makes you feel.

Again, it’s important to choose music that makes you relax and is soothing to you. This is obviously a subjective thing – we all have different tastes in music and what we consider relaxing. Such as Garth on the commercial for health insurance de-stressing to heavy metal – which isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’.

Whatever music you choose, be mindful while listening to it, and it has the power to help you find your calm during stressful and anxious times.

Dance monkey (Tones and I): Music and exercise

It never fails. When you’re out for a stroll and some fast-paced music comes through your earbuds, your steps sync to the tempo of the music and you start walking faster. For me this morning, it was some Run DMC and Aerosmith action with ‘Walk this way’.

So music can help us increase the intensity of our exercise. It also motivates us to move. Listening to music with a great beat, that lifts our mood, is often all we need to encourage us to exercise and be more active. It makes you want to dance around the lounge, walk around the park, do some yoga or head to the gym.

Having a good playlist will also distract you. If you’re finding it hard to get in the exercise zone, uplifting tunes will help you get there by giving you something else to focus on.

Happy working song (Enchanted): Music and everyday activities

As with exercise, music can help make our everyday, mundane and sometimes stressful activities easier. Stuck in traffic? Put on some relaxing music. Cleaning the shower? Put on some fun, one-hit wonders. Preparing dinner for the starving hordes? Put on something that makes you feel creative and calm. This is the beauty of music – whatever the genre – there’s something for all tastes, occasions and feelings

ME! (Taylor Swift): Music and our sense of self

Our musical preferences are a big part of who we are. We’re all unique when it comes to what we listen to and when – what music soothes us, energises us, makes us emotional, transports us back in time. It’s magical. And unique to every person.

Count on me (Bruno Mars): Music connects us with others

Music also connects us with others. Think about the earliest time we encounter music – a parent singing a lullaby to their child. Apart from helping the baby fall asleep, it’s an important bonding time between parent and child.

Now think about attending church, a sporting event, or a concert. The shared moments when everyone sings a hymn, an anthem or a song can unify people from all walks of life, even if it’s for a short period.

Music also provides an opportunity to make new friends over a shared love of a particular band, style of music or artist. And with most of us having access to the internet and social media, these friendships are no longer confined to our own suburbs, states or even countries. Why is this important? Because being connected with others is vital for good physical and mental wellbeing. Social connections can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and improve our immune systems.

Happy (Pharrell): Music and emotions

Listening to music releases dopamine – which is one of the ‘feel good’ chemicals. This boosts your mood and makes you feel more optimistic. So playing upbeat, happy music first thing in the morning can help set you up for the day. Especially if you’re feeling a bit down or the morning news is too depressing to deal with.

On the flip side, listening to sad music can also be healthy. It can help you process feelings of sadness or other ‘negative’ feelings, by reflecting on them or crying. By doing so, you’re able to deal with them, rather than bottling them up.

Make a playlist for all occasions

Music is such a powerful tool we can use in many situations, and for many health benefits. So just like making a mixed tape for the person you had a crazy, mad crush on as a teenager, make yourself a bunch of mixed tapes. Well not literally, those things are impossible to find! But make yourself a series of playlists that you can use to exercise, boost your mood, help you sleep or manage your pain. Have them ready to go so all you have to do when you need them is to press a button.

Or check out the playlists online and find some that suit your tastes and needs.

And pump up the volume! 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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09/Feb/2019

And stay focused and motivated

It’s important to have goals in life. Whether it’s a goal involving travel, a new career, financial security or a goal relating to your health and fitness, having a clear goal – or an endpoint – gives you something to aim for.

But if you find it hard setting goals, and putting in place the steps you need to achieve them, you’re not alone. Here are a few pointers for setting a goal. I’ve used a weight loss goal as an example:

Be as clear as possible about what it is that you want to achieve, and how you’ll do it.

A common acronym used for goal setting is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time frame.

Be specific. What is it you’re aiming for? Ask yourself the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, why. What do you want to accomplish? Why? Who will be involved to help you? When and where will you do this?

You need to be able to measure your goal so that you know when/if you’ve achieved it. Losing weight is not a measurable goal, but losing 5kgs in 8 weeks is. You’re able to track your weight loss and the time frame.

Your goal needs to be something that’s achievable for you. It should challenge you and stretch you a little, but should be something that’s attainable, e.g. losing 20kgs in 2 weeks isn’t achievable, however, losing 5kgs in 8 weeks is.

You need to be realistic – your goal needs to be doable – for you and for your own circumstances. Losing 5kgs in 8 weeks is realistic for you because you’ve discussed it with your doctor, you’re committed (you know it’ll help ease your pain), you’ve enrolled in a weight loss class for information and support and you’ve joined a water exercise class so that you can exercise without making your knees more painful.

Your goal should have a time frame. Losing weight someday is not a timed goal. Having a time frame, e.g. 8 weeks, gives you motivation and helps keep you on track.

Using the SMART system, write down your goal and the steps you need to get there. Stick it on your fridge, bathroom mirror or someplace you’ll see it often. Refer to it regularly. If you have any hiccups along the way, that’s okay, don’t give up. Just refer back to your goal and move on.

Now that you know how to set a goal, it’s time to think of one of your own. What is it that you want to do or achieve?

Remember to think SMART and you’ll get there in the end! Good luck.




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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