Now that the temperatures are dropping in the United States – and some areas already have seen snowflakes – winter is definitely on its way. This can be a challenging season for many people, with shorter daylight hours, limited sunshine, colds and the flu and lots more time indoors.
With the temptation to hibernate, nap and carbo-load, it can be more difficult during cold weather to remain active and maintain healthy habits. This can be a significant change from summer, when physical activity, healthy eating and time outdoors come much more naturally.
Although the different seasons dictate some changes by default, it’s important to continually pursue balance and a lifestyle targeted at wellness to support optimal physical and mental health. In other words, don’t let winter bring you down. Resolve to deal with the weather (limit the complaining!) and make the best of each day so you can feel and look your best.
It may be easier said than done, but here we provide some valuable recommendations for surviving cold weather months. Give these a try and you’ll be better for it come springtime!
Don’t get lazy when it comes to workouts just because you are all covered up with layers of clothing. Keep hitting the gym each week or plowing through your home routine, and try mixing it up for extra motivation. Consider these options:
- Take a new class – Hot yoga, anyone? Try a new class at the gym to get your body and mind moving differently.
- Partner up – Enlist a workout buddy to keep you accountable, and arrange to meet for a run outside or a sweat session at the health club.
- Hire a trainer – Whether you prefer one-on-one attention or small group training, working with a trainer adds new exercises, close attention to form and execution and novelty to keep you going. Plus, because you’re paying for these sessions, you’re less likely to blow them off.
- Invest in your home gym – When the conditions aren’t safe to get to the club, you’ll benefit from a versatile cardio piece, like a cross-trainer, that you can hop on at home. Or treat yourself for the holidays to some Bowflex SelectTech Dumbbells, resistance bands and a bench or stability ball for strength work. Check out online workouts to vary your regimens; there are some that are just 10 minutes for days when you’re squeezed for time.
- Walk outside – Whether you walk the dog or join your spouse after dinner, a brisk walk, when bundled up sufficiently, is invigorating and a great way to beat cabin fever. Check the weather first, and skip it if temperatures are sub-zero or wind chills are brutal. Always dress warmly so you aren’t freezing; you can remove hats and gloves if you warm up once you’re moving.
- Jog or run outside – If it’s not super icy or snowing, again, the outdoors can be exhilarating if you are dressed properly. Layer appropriately, use reflective apparel if it is dark and stay on paved sidewalks or trails for safer footing. Don’t forget lip balm, tissues and a hat!
- Enjoy winter sports – Ice skating is a great activity that you can share with friends and family. Or go downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowboarding for rigorous and valuable physical activity that is far from a boring exercise bout.
- Embrace the snow – Shoveling is a workout that burns major calories, so get to it. Or join the kids for a snowball fight, go sledding or build a fort. Forget about traditional workouts and just have fun!
Surviving cold weather months and staying healthy means watching your diet, and not overdosing on comfort food, like creamy soups, fondue, starchy casseroles and rich desserts, which typically are high in calories and fat. It’s OK to enjoy these favorites in moderation, but don’t be filling your plate with these heavy choices daily.
- Keep up the fruit and veggies – We know it’s harder in the winter to find fresh produce, but make sure you maintain a daily intake of lots of fruits and veggies. Use frozen options if necessary for smoothies, to toss into salads of for side dishes.
- Stay hydrated – It’s easy to get dehydrated in winter since we don’t always feel thirsty. Remember, coffee, caffeinated beverages and alcohol all are diuretics. Keep a water bottle with you at work or school, and always during your workouts. If you feel fatigued or are prone to headaches, drink up, as this can alleviate these symptoms.
- Try new recipes – If you get into a rut and find yourself eating the same things often (or cereal for dinner, again!), seek some new recipes online or in cookbooks, or ask your family and friends for their favorites. Look for healthy options as well – there are a ton of them out there, and you may find some new favorites.
- Limit overeating – With more time indoors and a slew of holiday specialty foods and treats galore, this is a prime time for overeating and indulgence, which means excess calories and potential weight gain. Control portions and don’t skip meals as a way to “save up” calories so you can eat with abandon at parties.
- Take a cooking class – If you like to cook, this is a fun way to get out of the house, meet new people and expand your capabilities in the kitchen. If your idea of cooking is tossing a frozen meal in the microwave, then maybe this isn’t your ideal choice. But you may find a class focused on quick, easy meals or desserts that piques your interest.
Consecutive gray days and gloomy weather can take a toll on your spirit and lead to the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects 3 million Americans each year. Isolating yourself at home under the covers doesn’t help. Be proactive to maintain a positive outlook.
- Get outside – Fresh air can boost your mood and energy. See the Physical Activity section above.
- Exercise – Research shows that exercise can help by releasing serotonin and dopamine, the “feel-good” endorphins. Keep moving.
- Use light therapy – Sitting in front of a light box for 30 minutes or more each day stimulates brain chemicals that can help relieve symptoms of SAD.
- Socialize – Resist the urge to hole up at home and instead, get out and interact with others to fight loneliness. Meet friends for meals or coffee, join a book club, volunteer at a local organization, take a class at the local college, host a game night or movie party or attend events at museums, the library or art galleries. Avail yourself of the multitude of options.
- Try mind-body options – Yoga, meditation, guided imagery and journaling offer valuable outlets for stress management, mood and relaxation.
- See a counselor – If you have persistent depression, professional counseling and perhaps medication or alternative treatments can help you feel better and develop coping mechanisms.
- Rest – Stay active during the day and aim for consistent hours of sleep at night. Short naps are acceptable if absolutely necessary, but don’t lounge in PJs all weekend. Keeping busy will help you get quality sleep overnight.