Winter is coming. We know what to expect: as darkness descends and a generally gloomy disposition looms over our head, we mentally prepare ourselves for hibernation. We wait in desperation for that first glimpse of light and warmth to appear in our world again. I’ve made this mistake before. A few years back I quit exercising in winter; I failed to justify keeping in shape when the bitter cold required me to be accompanied by 7 layers of body-hiding protection. ‘I’ll start again when the sun comes back’, she said.
For the first few weeks, I thought I’d gotten away with it – I felt smug while indulging in excess ‘sofa time’ and… well, just being warm while those other suckers powered through. But after a while, I started to notice changes in my temperament. I lost my will to leave the house; I was lethargic, I was uncharacteristically irritable, I was sad. Grilled cheese and creamy pasta dishes became staple comforts; I had a complete disregard for nutrition, and it showed. I’ve never really suffered from depression, but man – I felt rough.
These days though, I’ve vowed to fight my winter demons. I’ve re-discovered a love for healthy eating, and found a sport and exercise plan that speak to my soul. The methods will differ based on your personal interests, but I can guarantee if you also suffer from S.A.D – the most effective way to charge your batteries is by taking care of your body, which will in turn do wonders for your state of mind.
Here are 5 ways to focus on staying fit and healthy this winter season.
Thanks to Donna and Tom from Parks and Recreation, we’ve learned the value of self-indulgence. Ok, we probably already understood the concept, but whatever – I love an excuse to mention them. For this purpose, however, there’s no need to empty the budget. Healthy eating and regular exercise should always be a lifestyle – not a fad diet or a quick fix that you have no intention of maintaining. So when you make the decision to change your life in a positive way, make sure you always leave room for little indulgences. For me, this might mean an incredible brunch on the weekend (and maybe a slice of carrot cake from my fave local cafe) and not losing sleep counting calories. Top Tip – if you want to remain sane, don’t count calories. It’s neither healthy or accurate and there are much simpler ways to make sure you’re maintaining a negative energy balance.
2. Establish a Manageable Exercise Routine
If you work the general 9-5 slot, it’s usually pretty easy to set a mid-week eating and exercise schedule. For the first two weeks you’ll hate your life, the world, and everyone who passes you by, but then comes the proverbial ‘ray of light’ and somehow this new way of living becomes not only manageable, but easy as (low-calorie) pie. But first – you’ll need to make yourself accountable. Write down a weekly plan that sounds feasible for your schedule. Here’s mine, for example:
- Monday: Kickboxing class
- Tuesday: Morning Boot Camp
- Wed: I’M FREEEE!
- Thursday: ALSO FREEEE (date with Netflix)
- Friday: Morning Boot Camp
- Saturday: Cross Fit
- Sunday: FUNDAY (come at me brunch!)
Here’s why it works for me. Monday is always a tough day – so I start the week with my favorite class – Kickboxing. Not only am I getting fitter, I’m also learning a discipline and literally kicking out some stress. I’ve also found training twice a week in the mornings to be surprisingly gratifying. It makes it so much easier to fit exercise into my schedule when I have almost every evening free – AND, yes, it really does make you more alert and energetic throughout the day. The other key is to mix up the training. I used to go to a standard gym and follow the same routine, and not only was I bored before going through the door, I never pushed myself to my limits. Now I do only classes and a mixture of martial arts, Crossfit and circuit training to maintain a consistent learning curve. So what’s my advice? Try everything- swimming, martial arts, yoga, running, rock climbing, dance classes, weight training etc. Most gyms offer free trial classes, so take the time to figure out what really works for you. Don’t worry if at first you’re terrible at it – think of it as setting the bar for improvement.
3. Stop Buying The Foods That Make You Weak
Again, this is where you’re going to hate life for a little bit (but you bounce back- I promise!). One of the biggest changes I’ve made this year is to stop buying the foods that I simply cannot resist. For me, that’s bread, pasta and cheese. I also cut out most processed foods, but as a vegetarian I still eat soy products like tofu, because it provides some essential proteins and I don’t want to make my life difficult. However – you should always aim to avoid anything that’s produced in a factory – from muesli bars, to cookies, processed cheese slices, minute-rice or noodles, sugary cereals etc. Also – be very aware of anything that claims to be ‘low fat’, ‘low sugar’, ‘low carb’ – as they tend to make up for the deficit with other dangerous ingredients that amount to the same thing, or worse.
4. Get Social – Use Group Training
Not everyone can afford a personal trainer, but the great news is that group classes are 10 times cheaper and, in my experience, just as effective. Most gyms offer classes, and if not – personal trainers are almost always willing to split the cost between friends for a session. Or simply use social media or do a quick google to search for ‘group training (insert location)’ or ‘boot camp training (location)’ etc. In a group you’re much more likely to push beyond your usual limitations, so you can challenge yourself by competing with others. It also helps during the colder months to be around people who share the same interests and are working towards similar goals. One major deterrent for people keen to stay in shape is the people close to them not being supportive of their choices. So in short – make sure you find people who reinforce the positive changes you’re making in your life.
5. There’s An App For Everything
I wouldn’t rely solely on modern fitness apps to get you to where you need to be. But they can be extremely useful in helping to monitor your progress and keeping you accountable for any lapses. And there will be failures – but that doesn’t mean you should crawl into a ball and give up. I use Nike’s ‘Run’ and ‘Training’ apps for example – the UX is incredibly well thought-out, and it’s FREE! Better still, if you’re traveling or your schedule changes you will always have an armoury of exercise routines that don’t require equipment and you can easily slide them into your day.
So there you go – 5 simple techniques to help reinforce positive change when the sun is but a distant memory. Sometimes it takes hindsight to realise you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder, but if it’s something you’ve experienced, it’s never too late to take action. That first step is always the most difficult to make, but I’ve never heard anyone say they’ve regretted taking it.