Let it snow

How to avoid wintertime
wellness issues

By Greg Seiter

What’s your excuse? Whether you blame it on cold weather, fewer daylight hours or perhaps even reduction of in-season fruits and vegetables, Indiana winters tend to wreak havoc on exercise routines and healthy dietary practices. But local experts say that doesn’t have to be the case.

In fact, they insist that a certain degree of advance preparation and a willingness to adapt and be flexible are key components in helping individuals maintain their fitness goals no matter the season. Here, 10 tips to keep you on the straight and narrow, even when the snow settles around us.

Steady goes it

It’s important to keep your weight consistent, says Ryan Skora, Johnson Memorial Hospital Wellness Services lead health and wellness coach, even in the face of a challenging season.

“One thing I hear a lot is that people say they have a winter weight and a summer weight, but your weight really shouldn’t fluctuate with the seasons,” Skora says. “If you gain a couple of pounds one winter, lose them the following summer and then gain two or three more pounds the following winter, it could eventually get harder and harder for you to lose that weight. There’s a perception out there that seasonal weight gain and loss is acceptable, but it shouldn’t be. Fluctuating like that isn’t good for you.”

Active body, active brain

Psychological hurdles can deter healthy practices. In fact, according to industry experts, seasonal affective disorder is a condition representing a type of depression that is directly related to changes in season. The good news, however, is that physical activity can help minimize its impact. “If you don’t mind the temperatures and can safely do so, go outside and shovel some snow, run up a hill while sledding with your kids or crawl around on your hands and knees while building a snowman,” Skora says. “There are some golf courses that may even allow cross country skiing.”

Ice skating and friendly snowball fights are other recommendations. “Anything you can do to get your heart pumping a little will help,” says Robin Stahl, a registered dietitian at Community Health Network. “But you have to be smart about it and know your limitations.”

Get acclimated and get ready to take it inside

Outdoor exercisers who tend to slack off when temperatures drop can prepare for the inevitable changes in seasonal conditions by allowing themselves time to acclimate. “Be outside as much as you can while temperatures are still moderate and wear more clothes than you think you might need,” Stahl says. “Bundle up because you can always peel layers off. Doing so will help your body adjust.”

While taking advantage of temperature-friendly days, plan for the months yet to come and think through the challenges those times will present, Skora says. “It’s important to identify the activities you enjoy, because those are the ones you’re more likely to stick with when the weather turns,” he says. “For the things you primarily do outside, figure out how to bring them inside, if possible. For example, if you like walking, you can do so at the Greenwood Park Mall or you can visit an indoor track at a local exercise facility.”

Keep it simple

For those who prefer to stay indoors, Deb Welch, a personal trainer with southside-based New Life Fitness, recommends simplicity. “Participating in winter sports is great, but even making a conscious effort to walk further than you normally do while parking your car at work or at the grocery store will help,” she says.

“Push-ups and sit-ups are great for those who don’t have pre-existing medical limitations, and chair squats, which involve pretending like you’re going to sit down, are also a good idea. These things can be done almost anywhere,” she says. Even those who enjoy watching television and listening to music have indoor exercise options available at their fingertips.

“If you’re sitting there watching TV, get up and move around during commercials,” Welch recommends. “March in place, simulate boxing or kickboxing or do a little dancing.”

Speaking of TV…

Video games, social media platforms and exercise-specific DVDs can prove to be vital exercise tools in between the fall and spring seasons. Remember, video streaming site YouTube isn’t merely the home of makeup vloggers; it’s a source of workouts. “There are free dance and exercise videos available,” Skora says. “And there are a lot of interactive video games to play, too. In fact, doing those things with others can be a great way to bond with friends and family members.”

Get out and stay social

It’s important for people to enjoy activities away from home. “Bowling is actually great exercise,” Skora says. “But you probably don’t want to incorporate beer and nachos when you’re doing it.”

While you’re out and about, be social; Stahl says social interaction is especially important during the winter. “When dealing with colder temperatures, people tend to become less social. We all need social interaction,” she says. “That’s why it’s important to join a group fitness class or even continue to occasionally meet your neighbor for a walk around the block.”

Portion perspective

Holiday periods featuring plentiful dining options can also lead to food-related downfalls. Skora recommends using smaller-than-usual plates and glasses and fighting the urge to make repeated trips to a buffet or serving line.

Eat warm food, but don’t overlook frozen veggies

Dietitian Megan Marquet of Franciscan Health believes the decline in fresh, vibrant produce oftentimes leads to dietary-related challenges during the winter months. “In Indiana, apples, grapes and watermelon are the last seasonal fruits available; and it is slim pickings after October,” she says. “To overcome this barrier, embrace the warm oranges of winter and incorporate frozen produce. Sweet potatoes, winter squashes and pumpkins are all healthy vegetables that can easily be incorporated into soups and stews or diced and roasted. If you find yourself missing your summer favorites, look for them in the freezer aisle.”

And eat to counter the weather outside.

“It seems like a lot of people don’t really want to eat something cold in the winter, so a small bowl of soup made in a Crock-Pot can be both satisfying and fulfilling,” Stahl says.

Stay hydrated

You might think you’re not sweating and dial down your water intake accordingly. This, Skora says, is a mistake. “Don’t underestimate the need for water during the winter,” he says. “You’ll still be sweating, especially if you’re doing some outdoor activities.”

And remember, you can eat to stay hydrated; Welch emphasizes the significance of salads. She suggests combining salad with a sandwich or a warm bowl of soup. “You can get hydration from the lettuce and add beans to the soup or salad, which will help provide the fiber you need,” she says.

Don’t self-sabotage

Stahl says many people set themselves up for cold-weather dietary failure based on what they bring home from the grocery store. “Don’t have food around that you tend to indulge in,” she says. “Nobody really needs Pop-Tarts and chips. Yes, a teenage boy needs a lot of calories, but does he really need things like that?” Her snack-time recommendations include items such as yogurt and sugar-free pudding. Other possibilities are nuts and seeds, low-fat cheese and even peanut butter combined with an apple, carrots or celery.