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Fitness Through the Winter Season

Aug 9, 2008
Thanksgiving has passed, but it's not over yet. As the weather gets cooler and other winter holidays approach, it's always a temptation to eat more and exercise less, potentially resulting in weight gain, a wider waist, and a slower metabolism. We may also feel stressed from personal and professional commitments.

If you're satisfied with whatever diet and exercise plan you have, stick with it. If it's been lacking or you feel the stress of the season may interfere, try this: Between now and the end of the year, try to set aside at least 30 minutes or more on most days of the week for physical activity. Exercise can help shake those winter blues. It can help you improve eating habits and can reduce food cravings in people prone to overeating.

Your routine doesn't have to be all in one stretch, and it doesn't have to be strenuous. Make a workout of household cleaning. Take the stairs. Go sledding. For extra motivation, work out with a colleague, friend or family member. With just a little planning now, you can stay fit, feel more energetic, and still enjoy the holidays.

Indoor Winter Maintenance

Staying in shape when it's cold outside may take a little more effort and a dash more creativity than other times of the year, but it's worth it. Stick with your winter workouts, and you'll be a lot happier when the sweaters come off and the beach gear comes on. Exercise also keeps you occupied, filling time that might otherwise be spent on mindless eating. Health & Fitness Services offers several suggestions to keep you moving indoors.

Go for a walk. Walking is an easy way to meet the recommended amount of daily activity and avoid the holiday weight gain that can lead to obesity. Don't have or not a fan of the treadmill? Some people walk with a friend or family member through indoor shopping centers before doors officially open for business. Walking outdoors can also be fun. Walking is not only a good choice for healthy living, but it is also great for strengthening relationships with friends and family.

Every little bit helps. You can watch TV without necessarily being a couch potato. Go for a walk or run on your treadmill, do some step aerobics, jump rope or jog in place. Any movement, even if it's simply doing push-ups during the commercials, is worth something. When you're at the mall, pick up a workout video. You can turn your TV into an exercise machine by popping in that video instead of just sitting there!

Join others at the gym. Contact your local gym to inquire about group exercise. If the basics like spinning or step aerobics don't appeal to you, look into something different, such as candlelight stretch, circuit aerobics, yoga aerobics, aqua running, or boot camp where available. You don't have to join an expensive gym to find a group exercise class. Many community centers, universities, and hospitals have health/fitness centers that offer classes at low or no cost.

If you're unsure of what gym to join, check out the list of discounted commercial gym memberships available through the National Health & Fitness Program. And don't forget you can also take advantage of the Fitness Subsidy Program to cover up to half of the basic cost (excluding the cost of classes) of your gym membership!

Keep your weight up. That is, keep up your weight training routine. Doing a weight workout that involves the major muscle groups of your chest, back, legs, abs and arms not only burns calories, it also builds and maintains metabolism boosting muscle. All you need is your body weight and a few dumbbells for an at-home weight workout. Exercise bands are also a great alternative to dumbbells. Buy a basic weight training video or try this indoor winter workout. (Consult your personal physician or other health care provider before starting this or any other exercise routine, especially if you are new to exercise.)

Let's Take it Outside

No matter what the temperature may be outside, you may still love the outdoors. Then embrace the cold weather by taking up a winter sport. If skiing, the classic winter sport, isn't your idea of fun, there are other cold weather activities to consider. How about ice-skating, sledding, winter hiking and cross-country skiing? By dressing properly and heeding cold-weather safety tips, you can exercise outdoors. Here's our advice to keep you moving safely outside.

Dress the part. You'll need to dress in layers. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Next try fleece for insulation. Top this with a waterproof (e.g. nylon) outer layer. To warm the air you breathe, wear a face mask or a scarf over your mouth. Remember to wear a hat and gloves. Also, choose footwear with enough traction to prevent falls on slippery surfaces.

Remember sunscreen. Sunburn is possible any time of year, even when it's cold. Snow reflects the sun's rays. You'll also want to use a lip balm with SPF.

Start slowly. It's ok to feel a little chilly at first, as you'll warm up quickly. Don't forget to stretch afterwards.
Prevent dehydration. Water is important for body temperature regulation, so cold weather increases fluid needs, just like hot weather. Drink water or sports drinks before, during, and after your workout, even if you're not thirsty. Cold air has a drying effect, which can increase the risk of dehydration. In turn, dehydration increases the risk of frostbite.

Head indoors. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body. Activity that involves fast motion, such as skiing, running, cycling, or skating, also creates wind chill because it increases air movement past your body. If the cold seems unbearable despite the insulation from your clothing, head indoors.

If you see a patch of hard, pale, cold skin, you may have frostbite. Further, if your body temperature drops too much, you may experience hypothermia - intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination, and fatigue. If you suspect numbness from frostbite or the symptoms of hypothermia, get out of the cold and seek emergency care.

Who said it's cold outside? Is it sunny and warm this time of year where you live? Then go for that family walk outside. Jog, roller blade, bike, and take advantage of what most of us wish we have this winter! Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

Physician's consent. For some people, cold air can trigger chest pain or asthma attacks. If you have any medical conditions, consult your personal physician or other health care provider before exercising in cold weather, especially if you are new to exercise.

Time to Eat!

The winter holidays are typically celebrated with luscious indoor feasts of food, food, and more food. Holiday shopping also draws us to unhealthy fast food restaurants. Here are some quick pointers to help you from stuffing your face:

* On the day of the party, eat regularly all day long. If you go to a dinner party and have starved yourself all day long, it will be difficult not to overindulge.

* At the party, start with the healthy foods. Filling up on fruits and vegetables should keep you from overindulging in fattening foods.

* Beware of alcoholic beverages. Some of them may contain several hundred calories!

* On-the-go? Have a piece of fruit, low-fat/low-sugar energy bar, or other healthy snack on hand to prevent that super-sized meal in the mall.

And even if it's not a holiday, we may be trapped indoors because of the weather and often eat while sitting at the computer or watching television. It's tempting to hit the mood-boosting carbs and fattening comfort meals over the winter, but try and resist the urge to comfort eat. Consider these tips this winter:

Remember to stay hydrated! As unappealing as a bottle of cold water may be when it's freezing outside, it is important to keep up your fluid intake. Regular water intake may also help cut cravings.

Soup is a great way to get rid of winter's chill and keep hydrated, especially if it's low in salt. If it's stocked with a variety of vegetables, beans, and grains, it can boost your nutrition as well. The plus in soup starts with the broth. Make chicken or beef broth by boiling the meat, then skim any fat before adding the vegetables, beans, and grains.

Nutrition bonuses come from the vegetables. Load your soup with dark green vegetables for fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals - the agents in vegetables that give them their color, and may aid in preventing disease. Beans provide protein, vitamins, fiber, and more phytochemicals. So, not only will you stay warm and hydrated, you may also prevent heart disease, cancer, and keep your immune system strong!

Drink to fight the winter bug. We are more susceptible to coughs and colds in the winter, so it's a good idea to stock up on immune-boosting Vitamin C. Have a small glass of 100% fruit juice (e.g. orange juice is very high in Vitamin C) with your breakfast every morning. If you're conscious of the calories, you can take a Vitamin C supplement instead.

Keep it whole grain. Try foods with a low glycemic index (GI), such as brown rice rather than enriched white rice, whole wheat bread and pasta rather than those made with white refined flour. If you're baking, try whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose white flour. Replace your summer smoothie with a warming bowl of oats, an excellent low-GI food.

Low GI foods are invaluable during the winter (or anytime of the year), as they release energy slowly. They prevent you from having those sugar highs and lows, which can have a negative affect on your mood, reducing the likelihood of you exercising. As always, watch the portion size! Anything in excess can cause you to gain weight.
Holiday Sanity

Pressure from personal and professional commitments at especially this time of year can cause stress. You may not realistically have time to get in as much exercise as you'd like. The sun may not be shining as much, making you feel down. How can you improve your mood? This is what we think.

Prioritize. Find a quiet place alone and take a few moments to think through your priorities. Ask yourself which commitments, goals, or responsibilities are most important to your well-being. Then, focus reasonable attention on those things, while deliberately allowing the less important matters to wait. By exerting some intentional control, you should feel less overwhelmed.

Don't turn to overeating. Find the time to exercise, as any type of exercise can help your mood.

Don't stress the family reunion. The holidays can be a time to gather with family members, whom may be sources of social support, as well as sources of emotional friction. In the workplace, you may be recognized as a reliable professional, but back at home you may be known as the "overweight younger cousin" or be harassed with questions about your personal life from nosy relatives. When dealing with these types of family members, recognize what is happening and take control over your own reactions. Consider the person whose behavior annoys you. Does their behavior tell you they are disgruntled, depressed, self-absorbed, or just plain insensitive? Realize that you are not responsible for their actions, comments, or issues.

Remember that you don't need to let yourself become drawn back into roles or relationships of your past, and you have no obligation to respond to intrusive or annoying questions. Change or deflect the subject or just walk away.

When it comes to diet and exercise, the theme of moderation should not be forgotten. Keep in mind that it is easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape. Sticking to a diet and exercise routine that you've already established allows you to maintain your level of fitness and continue to enjoy the results that you've worked so hard for. Even if your routine is light, staying in the habit of exercise is better than dropping out altogether and risk losing your desire to get back into it again.
About the Author
Chris McCombs and his team teach a fitness program called Orange County Exercise. Chris owns fitness and training business Positively Fit Inc. helping people all over Southern California lose fat and get the body they want. You can learn more about Chris at http://www.socalworkout.com
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