Healthier Ways to Hibernate This Winter

The frigid weather and shorter days may make you want to hide out until spring. Here’s how to give into that instinct without packing on pounds

By: Mary Squillace 

Stay Cozy Without Kicking Your Healthy Habits

Photo Credit: Corbis Images
Sometime in the weeks following New Year’s the novelty of winter begins to wear off. The once-invigorating brisk chill in the air just makes us want to head back to bed.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, physical activity drops off in these colder, darker late-fall and winter months every year. In 2011 the percentage of adults who reported exercising for at least 30 minutes 3 or more days a week fell to 49.8% in November, down more than 5% from the year’s high in July.

Meanwhile, chilly temperatures make us want to double down when it comes to eating and indulge in hearty (and often fatty) comfort-food classics. (Search: Healthy recipes) In fact, the percentage of Americans who reported eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables at least 4 days a week has been consistently lower in fall and winter months than in spring or summer between 2008 and 2011.

While these are a few of the reasons we greet spring a few pounds heavier than we were in September, that doesn’t mean keeping in shape this winter is a lost cause. You can cave to some of your hunker-down instincts without sacrificing your health, as long as you hibernate strategically with these tips.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Stay active at home

While your instincts might be telling you to stay put, you need to resist the urge to spend a lot of time on the couch or under the covers this winter. Sedentary behavior—even among active individuals—can put you at risk for a number of health issues, including heart disease and diabetes, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal. The good news is that inserting even a little bit of activity into your day, like taking regular 1-minute walk breaks, can lower this risk. Think about setting an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to get up and move every hour or so.

Video: Living Room Workout

There are a number of other ways to get exercise without leaving the cozy confines of your abode, or without spending a fortune on home-gym equipment. “A jump rope doesn’t take up much space, but jumping rope is hard and burns a lot of calories,” says Ruth Frechman, RD, author of The Food is My Friend Diet. “I also like to use a Hula-hoop. It gets your heart going and it’s fun.” You’ll also be able to work your entire body with a resistance band. Plus, your TV can actually help you stay fit—a number of DVDs exist to help you blast fat, tone your body, and elevate your heart rate. Dance DVDs provide motivating music, which might be a welcome energy boost in these dreary months, or think about popping in a walking DVD, which allows viewers to get moving without venturing into snowy or icy conditions. Several fitness videos are available for streaming online as well. Hulu has an entire genre page dedicated to health and fitness videos and sites such as EMG Live Fitness and YuFit offer online classes similar to ones you’d find in the gym, like cardio kickboxing and barre instruction.

Burn fat, boost your metabolism, and strengthen your core—at home!—with the Abs Diet 2 DVD

Stay aware of your eating habits

If you’re home for prolonged periods of time, your instinct may be to graze continuously. “Keep a food journal,” Frechman says. “It will help you identify problems. You may be snacking too much and not realize you’re doing it.” When you’re homebound, it becomes easy to down an entire bag of snacks throughout the course of a day, or even in a single sitting, if you’re not careful. To avoid falling prey to these seemingly bottomless bags, portion out your servings in advance, Frechman suggests. (Related: DIY Snack Packs) This way, when you reach for a snack, you’ll know you won’t go overboard. She also urges people to keep an eye on the scale. Studies show that individuals who weigh themselves regularly are less likely to gain weight and more likely to lose weight.

Set goals, log the foods you eat, and keep tabs on the calories you burn with the Fit Tracker tool!

Stock up on warm, comforting healthy foods

“When it gets colder, we look for warmer foods. The key is to look for low-calorie [comfort] foods,” says Bethany Thayer, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Instead of going for something creamy, opt for a broth-based soup, which can be a great way to stay warm and may help you feel full, according to some research. Thayer suggests switching from your cold salad to warm vegetables (think roasted root vegetables), or heating up normally cold dishes—like sugar-free applesauce—to make them more soothing as the temperature drops. “Chili can also be a really great way to get filling beans and veggies. It’s warm and satisfying and there are great recipes that are low in calories,” she says.

10 Comfort Foods That Won’t Pack on the Pounds

Stay hydrated

You may not crave a gulp of cool water this time of year, but you still need it, especially because the air tends to be dryer. “While you’re not sweaty, you still lose moisture through your skin,” Thayer says. If the thought of an ice-cold glass of water makes you shiver, opt for water at room temperature or sip a cup of herbal tea, which can be a great, low-calorie way to get your daily dose of H2O. The Institute of Medicine recommends about 9 cups of fluids a day for women and 13 cups for men. In addition to supporting your overall health, research has indicated that drinking water can facilitate weight management. “When you fill up on a no-calorie beverage, you may not feel like eating as much,” Frechman says. Research has shown that people who drank water before meals consumed about 75 to 90 fewer calories during their meal than individuals who did not start with a glass of water. Plus, when hunger pangs hit, you might really be thirsty and not hungry, so before you reach for a snack, try quelling your appetite with a glass of water first.

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