Surviving winter:



I don’t know about you but at this time of year I start to feel a bit glum. At the weekend I popped out to the shops feeling decidedly tired and glum. It was that feeling you get when you have a few too many the night before but the problem was that I hadn’t had to many the night before the issue was, we are now getting much less sun light that we did in the summer.


As we head into October we are now in the accelerating part of the graph where we are losing day light fast. In fact we are pretty much equidistant from the longest and the shortest days of the year.


This is a graph that I have become well acquainted with over the past year as it dictates when Wine Rides can run. Between May and September is when we have enough daylight to get dinner on and get everyone fed. It’s not easy to cook a 3 course meal in a field kitchen in the dark.


Like a professional cricketer, I probably feel this shift in seasons more dramatically at the moment than most. I have gone from getting 150+ hours of sun shine a month on my skin to being cooped up indoors for most of the week with only the glow of a laptop screen. What you may not know is that this is not a trivial problem for any of us.


We tend to think that the sun is a bad thing. We have been taught to worry about exposure to the sun. There are good reasons for this but I tend to think that that advice is advice against extreme stupidity. It is about saying don’t lie in direct sun light until you burn.


We shouldn’t let worries about skin cancer stop you from going out and getting exposure to sun light. Sun light is another example of how our modern lives are making us ill. Death from heart diseases are 100 x higher than death from skin cancer. In fact heart and vascular diseases account for more death’s than all other forms of illness combined and for most people they are entirely preventable. Just let that last sentence sink in for a moment.


Of course, the trouble is that the things that course the problem tend to be bloody delicious, and in our experience the things that ameliorate that situation are terribly dull.


However I think that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Exposing your skin to sun light produces Vitim-D and that stops you getting rickets, but the sun also does something else: It liberates Nitric Oxide. When you eat fruit and veg you build up a store of Nitrates in your skin. But that isn’t the end of the story, in order to get most of the benefit from your good diet you need to go out in the sun. The sun breaks down these Nitrates and turns them into Nitric Oxide, this works as a signaling molecule and causes vasodilation, reduces blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease.


There are a few ways we know this. People with high levels of Vitim-D are known to have lower levels of heart disease, so boom. Just give people Vitim-D and you should see a corresponding reduction, in heart problems. Well that has been tried and Nada, nothing, it doesn’t work.


Vitim-D is a signal. It tells us that there is something about the folks with good hearts: they go outside a lot. Ok, yeah the guys that go outside and exercise regularly, they are the ones with healthier hearts? Certainly that is true, but it isn’t the whole story. People who live in the south of the UK are healthier than people who live in Scotland. That’s “whole population”, so there is no way that everyone in the south is doing enough running to account for the differences in health we find.  Your risk of popping your clogs are about 20% higher if you live in Glasgow rather than London and you’re about a 3rd better off if you live in Australia rather than London.


So what is to be done? 


Sell your car: then blow the money on a Wine and Cycling holiday, hell why not buy some cake, hats and shoes. But your car is a problem. The trouble is that a car is all you can eat transport. It whisks you from one indoor environment to another, and on cold days you have the windows up and therefore are reflecting most of the UV light away from you before it can have any beneficial effect on your skin. Switch from a car to cycling, and you will see a noticeable improvement in your health.


Start gardening.  Grow your own food. I know that they sell potatoes in the shop. I also know that if you cost in your time, you don’t plan well

Grow Your Own

Grow Your Own

and you spend too much on tools and toys, in the end it doesn’t even save you money, but if you grow your own food, you have a year round obligation to get outside.  It also means you eat more fresh veg and that’s what provides the Nitrates you need in the first place.


Take up sport again: Participation in team sport is falling off massively. These days it is hard to find 22 guys all available on the same day to kick a ball about. But there is still 5 a side, and in my case 3 aside touch rugby.  Or join a cycling club. What’s important is that you have an obligation to other people to go out and take part. This will keep you motivated, even when it’s raining outside and your body is screaming “don’t do it”.


Find a Buddy: The major advantage that I found from playing Touch Rugby is that it put me in touch with some other guys that want to get fit. I now meet twice a week with a neighbor who lives a few doors down and we sprint up our nearest hill four times fast. This is called High Intensity Interval training or HIT. Research from the University of Loughborough has shown that 2 minutes of highly intense exercise has most of the benefits as an hour of jogging. It seems unbelievable, but you really can improve your strength and fitness in about the time it takes to brush your teeth.


Have something to look forward to: Think about something you can do with your friends next summer. Contact your mates now and see if they want to get together for a fun weekend away. Why not book a Wine Ride? It is fun healthy and adventurous. While you are out and about on short rides or walk’s you can imagine what it will be like when the weather improves and you will have a goal, something to keep fit for. If nothing else, it will get your summer off with bag and give that injection of sun light you will have been missing all winter.