So we're getting into that time of year that can be a real "danger zone" if we're not careful (insert "Highway to the Danger Zone" background music in your head).
Just like Maverick in Top Gun, we've got to be prepared, with proper training, strategic planning, and the necessary tools to help us combat the overindulgence enemy that likes to show itself in the fall and winter seasons, especially around the holidays.
OK, I'll calm down a bit... I realize it's not usually my style to think of health as a "fight" with "enemies" (I prefer the more hippie, "enjoy the ride" kind of approach). But I do love me some Top Gun... I know about every line of this movie. (Talk about a useless skill.)
So whether you want to see yourself as Maverick, fighting your way through a "combat zone" of over-eating and inactivity, or whether you want to envision a beautiful, harmonious fall and winter with the perfect balance of active lifestyle, moderation in eating, and enjoyment of life, let's take a look at some habits to optimize our health during the fall and winter seasons.
Take It Inside
As the days get shorter and colder, it gets harder to exercise outside. Though my preference is being outside in the fresh air as much as possible, I think a gym membership is a great thing to have, especially in the colder months.
Some nice benefits of a gym membership include:
- Meeting people. Whether in group exercise classes, on cardio equipment, or while lifting weights, the gym can be a great way to meet people who share similar health goals.
- Child care. If you stay at home with little ones, taking some time for you can make a huge difference in your physical and mental well-being. Please, get over any guilt you may have. It's not selfish. Your kids will reap the benefits too. Kids want to spend time with happy parents. We can best care for others when we're taking care of ourselves. Exercise is a great way to improve your energy level, mood, and patience level -- all of which are important when taking care of munchkins.
- Focus. When you're in the gym, there's only one thing to do -- exercise (well, there's socializing too, but you'll look kinda odd if you're not doing something physical).
Perhaps most important is what you don't find in a gym: there are no laundry baskets of clothes to fold, no stacks of mail to sort through, no dishes that need to be cleaned or put away, no toys to pick up, no unfinished projects staring at you, no computers luring you in to do work or catch up on emails, no kids coming up to you with multiple requests... (you get the picture).
As a result, you can focus on your workout, and not get side-tracked by everything else life is throwing your way at the moment. This can make your exercise routine much more efficient. You can get in and get out, instead of drawing the process out (or not doing it at all) due to other demands on your attention.
I should mention one important thing to keep in mind about a gym membership: The membership itself doesn't get you in shape. Turns out you have to actually venture inside the gym and do the exercise to see results.
Prioritizing, planning, and organization are necessary to make this happen. This leads me to my next point, which is not specific to fall/winter, but important to keep in mind.
What Gets Scheduled Gets Done
I will start by saying that planning and organization are not my strengths. (So I offer hope for the organizationally-challenged!) If I can do this, you can do it. These are some things that have helped me to stay consistent with exercise:
I view exercise as a regular, recurring "important appointment" in my daily schedule, with special care taken to protect this time. I also make the process "automatic" -- something I do without thinking about it, like brushing my teeth.
For example, on weekdays when I'm off, it's a given that I will throw on some workout clothes when I get out of bed, drop the kids off at school (sorry to everyone who has to see me in this rough-looking state), and exercise right after. I don't give myself a chance to go back home and get side-tracked. It's a standing "appointment" that I have on those days, with other obligations scheduled around this time whenever possible.
Work days are different because I work 12-hour shifts, and my time is much more limited. On those days my exercise preference is to jump on our home exercise bike for about 20 minutes in the morning before getting in the shower (see Earn That Shower!).
On weekend days when my husband and I are both off, it's expected that each of us will separately go exercise at some point in the day (we exercise separately because he's way out of my league in terms of athletic ability, and because we have little ones at home). Neither of us follows a strict program, but it's a given that we'll do something active during the day, and we help each other to make it happen.
Sometimes the kids ask to come too. On Sunday, for example, my 6 year-old daughter and I jogged three miles together. My 4 year-old son was feeling left out, so he and my husband ended up going on a one-mile "man run." It will be harder to do this kind of thing when the weather gets colder, but that's when a YMCA membership or organized indoor activities come in handy.
Designated exercise time has become such a regular, expected occurrence for my husband and I that we feel out of sorts when we don't get our workout time. In the process, we're also teaching our kids the importance of regular physical activity (see Teaching Kids a Healthy Lifestyle).
Different Foods, Same Rules
Whereas spring and summer offer an abundance of fresh, in-season produce for salads and lighter meals, the nice thing about fall and winter is that it's soup weather! Soups are a great way to enjoy a comforting meal that can be packed with nutrient-rich whole foods. Soups are also economical and efficient. They freeze nicely, so you can make a massive pot and have plenty left over to freeze for easy home-cooked meals down the road.
I have a soup pot that takes up two burners on my stove and usually allows me to quadruple recipes. Some of the soups I cook and freeze include: vegetable soup, chili, various bean soups, potato soup, tomato soup, gumbo, and minestrone (note: for minestrone I boil the noodles/pasta separately and add them right before we eat it, to avoid mushiness from the freezing process).
On a busy weeknight, it's so convenient to grab some soup from the freezer and simply warm it up on the stove. Add a salad and some whole grain bread, and you have an inexpensive, quick, delicious, and healthy dinner option!
With fall and winter, we move away from the grill and turn our attention to the oven and stove instead. But regardless of where you're doing the cooking, the same basic rules should apply. Strive to include an abundance of (non-starchy) vegetables and some fresh fruit, with lean protein, healthy starches (such as potato, corn, brown rice, or whole-grain bread), and healthy fats (such as olive oil or canola oil) in moderation.
Of course, with increased baking comes increased desserts. This is where things can get dangerous. So many cookies, cakes, pies, breads, candies... especially around the holidays. These foods are packed with addicting empty calories and can do some serious damage if you're not careful.
The good news is that you don't have to completely deprive yourself of anything... but it is important to limit portion sizes of the unhealthy stuff. Just fill up on the healthy foods and savor smaller portions of the less-healthy stuff without guilt. Moderation and a healthy attitude toward food are important for long-term success.
One thing working in your favor during the colder months is sleep. With shorter daylight hours, life seems to shut down a little earlier. Take advantage of this, and get the rest your body needs. Sleep is extremely important for a number of reasons, which I wrote about a few weeks ago (see Don't Neglect This Friend).
Now is the Time
Now is the time to get on track with your health. "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." (Chinese proverb)
By creating healthy habits now, you can significantly improve your quality of life for years to come. It takes some intentional effort, but the rewards are undoubtedly worth it.
I would love to hear from you. If you have additional ideas or tips on creating healthy fall and winter habits, please share in the comments section below or on Facebook.
And remember, you've got this, Maverick. :)
This post was originally published on October 17, 2016.