It’s relatively easy to convince yourself to go outside for a run when the weather is sunny and warm, but as the days start to shorten and the temperature drops, regular outdoor exercise can seem more and more like a chore. Add the routine-busting holidays – full of indoor activities, decadent food, and stress – and winter can really throw a wrench into your fitness goals. All this means that taking care of your body and mind are all the more important in the winter season.
Pay Attention Diet
Mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sausage stuffing – whatever your favorite holiday food is, it’s probably not something you should eat every day. However, cold weather and time spent indoors can combine to make you more likely to reach for fatty, sugary foods. When cravings hit, keep these tips in mind to avoid thwarting the hard work you’ve done all year.
Pack in the Protein
Particularly gloomy days are likely to see you reaching for carbohydrate-rich foods. They’re called “comfort foods” for a reason – they can briefly boost your serotonin levels, making you happier. However, that little high doesn’t last, and carbs won’t keep your energy up for long periods of time. You’ll just need more and more simple carbohydrates to maintain it.
Instead, start the day with a breakfast full of protein. Your energy levels will stay much steadier and you’ll feel full longer. Of course, cravings may hit when your energy dips in the afternoon, so have healthy snacks at the ready. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are all great choices to vanquish your hunger without compromising your diet.
Though they have the word “fat” in the name, omega-3 fatty acids consist of the good kind of fat that your body needs. Found in fish, nuts, and seeds, these fatty acids lessen inflammation like joint pain, lower elevated levels of fat in the blood, and even help with depression. While they’re no replacement for prescription medication, some studies have shown that omega-3s actually boost the effects of anti-depressants.
Something like 20% of Americans get the flu each year, so you’re almost certainly going to be exposed to the virus at some point, and your immune system needs all the help it can get. Stock up on white button and shiitake mushrooms and incorporate them into your cooking whenever possible. They’re known to strengthen and balance the immune system. Turkey tail, tremella, hen of the woods, and cordyceps mushrooms also have the same effect.
Don’t Forget the Fiber
Speaking of the immune system, a diet full of soluble fiber can also give it a boost. That’s not all – fiber reduces cholesterol, promotes weight loss, and protects against diabetes. Apples, oats, and nuts are all good sources of fiber, which is particularly important for senior citizens who need increased fiber to keep their digestive systems going strong.
Color is Your Friend
Combat the endless gray of winter with lots of color. This could apply to your interior décor, but it’s even more important for your diet. Fruits and veggies that are dark green, bright red, and vivid orange are all packed with the nutrients you need to have a happy and healthy winter. Green cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts are great for – you guessed it – your immune system, and spinach keeps your eyes healthy.
The color in beets and red cabbage comes from an anti-oxidant called anthocyanin, and their potassium and vitamin C help combat high blood pressure. Sweet potatoes are high in iron, vitamin C, and potassium, as well as the same beta carotene that’s found in carrots. Tomatoes are full of fiber and vitamins, and you can’t go wrong with any color of bell pepper.
Spice It Up
Wake up your taste buds with some extra spice in your food. It doesn’t need to be the “hot” kind of spice, either – cilantro, ginger, and garlic are good for the heart as well as the immune system. The yellow curry spice turmeric contains curcumin, an anti-oxidant that also fights heart disease and inflammation.
Commit to Exercise
Food is only half the battle – you need to keep your activity levels up, too. Many days, you’ll feel like curling up on the couch under a layer of blankets. While no one will begrudge you the occasional day of indulgence, staying sedentary won’t help you in the long run. As the leaves begin to turn, you’ll want to make up your mind that you’re going to take proactive steps to stay fit despite the weather.
Plan in Advance
It’s much easier to put off exercise if you let yourself decide in the moment whether you feel like being active or staying put. Don’t fall into this trap – schedule exercise about a week or so in advance. If you decide which activities you’ll do on which days and for how long, it’ll be harder to blow off exercise at the last minute.
Exercise at Home
When the weather’s miserable, it’s hard to force yourself to go outside, even to go to the gym. Instead, build up an arsenal of exercises you can do at home with some home gym exercise machines. The internet is a great resource for all sorts of guided workout videos, from yoga to strength training to aerobics and more. You can even pick up a Wii Fit and turn exercise into a game. Staying inside doesn’t have to mean being sedentary.
It can actually be invigorating to take your normal jog through frigid conditions, and if you’re someone who loves exercising in the cold, pay special attention to safety during the winter. Keep an eye out for ice, particularly if snow has melted into water during the day – it can refreeze into nearly-invisible “black ice.” Salt your driveway and any outdoor staircases, and if your running route includes stairs, use the handrails.
You might not be able to stop the cold or the snow, but you don’t have to let these conditions affect your health, either. By planning carefully and sticking to your guns, you can stay fit and healthy all winter long.