As I write this month’s blog, I’m standing at my computer and gazing out the window in the early morning of a typical fall day in the northeast. Well, typical in terms of splendor. The birds are chirping, the sky is a bright rich blue, and the sun a brilliant yellow.
This natural beauty provides a perfect backdrop to the vibrant and colorful display of leaves speckled across the landscape. There is no way around it, it’s a glorious day. And I say this fully knowing that the days are growing shorter by the minute, the temperature is dropping by the second, and a blustery, cold, dark winter is just around the corner.
In fact, a growing number of people respond to shorter daylight and long, cold, dark winter nights much like a hibernating bear and experience the ‘winter blues’ or a more serious condition known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. SAD results in feeling depressed, withdrawn, hopeless, and fatigued and many sufferers sleep a lot and crave carbs, which causes weight gain that sends them further into a gloomy mood. One effective treatment for SAD is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a light box for 30 minutes every day during the fall/winter months. Other strategies include cognitive behavioral therapy (positive self-talk), medications (anti-depressants), social/community activities (volunteering) and my favorite – exercise.
Personally, I find exercising outside surrounded by brilliant vivid colors and crisp autumn air is the best therapy to lift my mood. My favorite time is early morning when everything is calm and peaceful. This sets a positive spin on the rest of the day.
Staying active during fall helps condition my body to acclimate to the colder temperatures and serves as a launching pad to help me stay active throughout the winter. My favorite fall activities are walking/jogging/running, biking, hiking, and the occasional apple picking. The goal is to ‘plant the seeds’ of healthy lifestyle habits during the beautiful fall season so they continue to grow during the winter months, instead of lying dormant and hibernating until summer. I’m not saying it’s always easy to do….I find it challenging at times, especially during the bitter cold of winter when I prefer to keep warm inside. So, I allow myself an occasional “stay inside day”. But, if I choose the “stay inside” approach too often I end up making poor food and exercise choices and this can sour my mood.
A successful motivational strategy I use myself and with my clients is setting health and wellness goals during the fall/winter months. One of the best is to sign up for a Thanksgiving Day race/walk because it pushes you to train all fall in preparation. Many of these are 5K’s so the whole family can participate. After you accomplish that goal, keep the momentum going and commit to a First Night (New Year’s) race/walk.
If being a part of a race is not your thing, no big deal, it’s much more important to get out and do it, and have fun being active with family and friends. Schedule a new hike/walk challenge each month and use the weeks in between to prepare.
When snowfall arrives, grab some snowshoes and ‘march on’. Snowshoeing is a great way to explore nature ‘off the beaten path’ and along the way bring you to a place of pure tranquility. If you haven’t tried snowshoeing, this winter is the time, the serenity and harmony of being in nature is beyond invigorating!
Here are my top 3 strategies to help you stay committed to a healthy lifestyle program during the colder fall and winter months:
- Protein and fiber-rich breakfast: Begin your day with a metabolism-boosting protein and fiber rich breakfast. This could include a bowl of my PRISE oatmeal.
- Start your day MOVING! Outside in nature is best. Research from my lab and others shows that early-morning exercisers are more likely to stick with it than late-day exercisers, have lower blood pressure, and they sleep better. If possible, try to fit in your exercise (see RISE blogs) before your morning protein/fiber-rich breakfast as this will aid in fat loss. If you are someone that simply can’t exercise in the morning, don’t sweat it, just find a convenient time during the day that you can schedule it in and stick to it. Exercise is beneficial at any time during the day.
- Body Visit: I highly recommend a Body Visit every morning that includes a short meditation or prayer that includes lots of positive self-talk. Feeling depressed is most often triggered by ‘automatic negative thoughts’ (called ANTs) and the best way to prevent this is with ‘positive automatic thoughts (or PATs). An early morning Body Visit and meditation/prayer is the answer.
Fall is a great time to START a healthy lifestyle regimen because of the natural beauty and fresh, crisp air outside… this combination provides an ideal environment to help adjust your body to the colder temperatures. Set a few fitness goals that get you up and out the door in the morning moving. This will boost your spirits and keep you healthy through the winter.