There are always reasons not to get in that workout session. Some of those reasons are weak—“My dog ate my workout glove” or “I can’t find matching socks” or (my personal go-to) “It’s too cold outside.” Others, though, are pretty legitimate. Take allergies or achy joints or any of those common ailments that could really slow us down.
“Common over-the-counter pain medications are going to suppress pain but they also suppress the healing and anti-inflammatory systems in the body,” says Dr. Doni Wilson, a doctor of naturopathic medicine based in New York and Connecticut. “If you use a natural remedy, then you’re only going to turn off the inflammation while turning on the healing. You can actually support the physiology of the body using natural therapies.”
So step away from the medicine cabinet and let us advise you on the natural remedies that could get you back on the go.
Not to be painfully obvious, but it’s probably a good idea to sleep more. That means setting up your life in a way that allows you to get that eight hours in. That might mean sacrificing some of your social engagements, but you’ll enjoy the ones you have left even more when you’re not trying pry your eyelids open.
Dr. Doni also recommends eating small, frequent meals with protein—not carbs—every 2-4 hours. Carbohydrates cause what Dr. Doni calls, a “blood sugar roller coaster,” so you’ll be feeling sluggish again before you know it.
For an immediate fix, drink a cup of yerbe mate tea. It doesn’t contain caffeine (so no jitters, headaches, or upset stomachs) but it has been shown to increase energy. You can find it at health food stores, specialty tea stores, and online.
If someone owes you a favor, ask them for a massage. If not, try some gentle yoga or stretching. “It’s amazing how stretching makes a difference with muscle aches,” Dr. Doni says.
Dr. Doni also suggests taking a multivitamin. “Muscles really need calcium and magnesium to stay feeling good. They are required for the muscle to contract and relax.”
Otherwise, apply a topical treatment made with arnica, which you could find at a health store. Arnica is great for soreness, swelling, and joint pain—just make sure to never apply it to an open wound.
Bromelain—an enzyme extracted from the fruit of a pineapple plant—is an effective anti-inflammatory than can be taken in the form of a pill. The trick, according to Dr. Doni, is to take it an hour before or after you eat so that it works as an anti-inflammatory, and not as a digestive aid.
Try the bromelain here too.
Otherwise, there are supplements like chondroitin and glucosamine, which appear to reduce pain and increase joint mobility. The two are commonly taken together. You can find them at drug stores and health food stores.
What you eat can also be the cause of your achy and stiff joints—even if you think you’re on a healthy diet. “Inflammation from digestion can go straight to joints and muscles,” Dr. Doni says. So try cutting out dairy and gluten. They are both highly-inflammatory.
Try taking an oral probiotic*, the “good” bacteria that lives in the intestine. And yes, you’ll need something stronger than what is in yogurt.
Apply oils with antifungal properties to the affected area. Garlic oil or tea tree oil are normally good options. Tea tree oil, especially, has been said to work as well as pharmaceutical products. And if you’re not into putting garlic-smelling oil on your feet, add a couple of cloves to your food instead.
SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Try St. John’s Wort, an herb commonly used to treat mild depression, tiredness, and anxiety. You can even get it in tea form from nearly any grocery store.
Dr. Doni also recommends getting your cortisol levels and neurotransmitters measured since they are exactly what determine our mood and energy. With this information, doctors can likely find an effective remedy for that winter sluggishness.
Get enough sleep and eat those small meals with protein. According to Dr. Doni, “Those are huge because if we don’t have that, then our daily activities [like exercise] become a stress.”
Whenever you can, take 15 minutes to do something that relaxes you. Take the dog for a walk. Mediate. Drink tea. To each his own.
Neti pots and salt water nasal rinses usually do the job.
Nasalcrom is a nasal spray that keeps allergens from reaching the mast cells, therefore blocking histamines. And it’s non-steroidal so there are no side effects. “It uses nutrients in a local way and prevents the allergy systems,” says Dr. Doni.
Although not as strong, you can try nettle, a natural antihistamine. Dr. Doni says, “You’re not going to get dizzy or sleepy, but it can help reduce symptoms.”
Last piece of advice:
Always talk to your doctor before taking any medicines, natural and otherwise.
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.