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5 Secrets to Winter Health & Energy

winter activityUnless you live in an area that has a warm climate all year long, there is a good chance that you also face some health concerns and challenges during the winter months. When winter rolls around, comfort foods, many of which are high in calories and fat, tend to call for us. Not to mention the numerous food-centric holidays and festivities that take place from Halloween to Valentine's Day! Couple that with the thicker, baggier and body-hiding clothing in winter and it's no wonder that our motivation to exercise and eat healthy is higher during the warmer months of the year.

Here are five secrets to achieve winter health and energy all season long:

  1. Do everything in your power to avoid getting sick.  There is nothing that will sap your energy more than being ill. Colds and flu seem to spike during the winter months. Wash your hands, including under the nails and in between fingers, for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water, frequently.  Carry hand sanitizer for times when you can't wash your hands. 

    Boost your immune system to keep your defenses high by getting plenty of sleep and drinking lots of water, which will help keep nasal passages hydrated. Eat nourishing, vitamin packed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, and lean protein.  Keep up your exercise program and discuss with your doctor whether or not getting a flu shot makes sense for you.  Research has shown that individuals who practice these healthy habits get sick less often.
     
  2.  Maintain and shake up your exercise routine.  Exercise has been shown to prevent depression and lift the moods of those feeling down.  It also helps keep your immune system working efficiently.  Maintaining your exercise routine will offset some of the extra calories from seasonal treats and celebrations as well.

    Winter is the perfect opportunity to try a different type of machine or exercise class at the gym.  Borrow DVD's from the library or Netflix, and try a home workout in your cozy living room.  If you are really adventurous, embrace the winter and try a cold-weather sport such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice-skating.  Unless the conditions are icy, excessively windy or cold, there will be many days when you will be able to enjoy outdoor exercise all winter long. Invest in some gloves, a fleece headband, tights and turtlenecks made by the many all-weather sports clothing manufacturers.  You just might find a reason to look forward to winter after all!   
     
  3.  Enjoy a variety of winter foods.  Although summer offers a bounty of fresh fruit and veggies at affordable prices, many produce items ripen in winter.  From hearty root vegetables to bright and sweet citrus fruits, winter produce offers a surprising range of flavors.  Winter squashes such as acorn, butternut and spaghetti, are low in calories, high in health-promoting vitamins, and easy to cook.  Apples and many citrus fruits such as clementines and grapefruits are often at their sweetest when temperatures are cool.  Experiment with vegetables that you may not have tried cooking before, such as beets, broccoli rabe or Brussels sprouts. 
     
  4. Think light and bright. Research from the National Institute of Mental Health has found that exposure to bright light in the early morning can be a powerful, fast and effective treatment for seasonal depression.  As soon as you wake up, turn on bright lights in your home, open the curtains and lift the shades. When participating in outdoor exercise, if possible, do so in the early morning hours or at least during the day before the sun goes down.  If you are lucky enough to own a fireplace, use it often and try scented candles and see how it warms up your home and improves your mood. 
     
  5. Find your inner child and invite him/her out to play.  When we were kids, there was nothing that made us happier than a snowstorm.  As adults, a snowstorm can mean lost income, kids or pets tracking snow into our houses, walkways to shovel and, generally, a major hassle.  But what if we gave ourselves permission to act like a child again?  Instead of fretting over all the problems the winter has caused, why not find the opportunities we may overlook at other times of the year?  How about we slow down our crazy life of always needing to be doing something "productive" and engage in some fun and meaningful activities?  Put on your boots and gloves, and head out into the snow to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, or make snow angels.  Find the board games and puzzles, and enjoy some interactive play. 

Information adapted from: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1683&page=2