Beat the Winter Blahs with Outdoor Exercise
My number one tip for beating the “winter blahs” is to get outside into that winter weather with some outdoor activities that you enjoy. Cold weather exercise helps our bodies adapt to the lower temperatures so that we don’t suffer as much through cold winters. Outdoor exercise also ends up reducing that winter chill factor because it promotes good circulation and muscle tone to increase the body’s core temperature, which means a lowered susceptibility to feeling cold.
Winter in Guelph offers us many outdoor exercise opportunities from a simple 10-20 minute walk, to skating, cross-country skiing or tobogganing with your family. As a bonus, getting out for some winter exercise during the day gives us some much needed UV light exposure, which allows our bodies to produce vitamin D, a vitamin that’s becoming increasingly recognized as being important in regulating mood and maintaining a healthy immune system during the winter months. Exercise has also been shown in a recent study to be more effective than the flu shot in preventing seasonal influenza, so a great source of motivation right there!
Know the Nutritional Superfoods that Can Help You Reach Your Goals
Protein – we can’t underestimate the power of protein in helping you stick to your exercise goals. Increasing your protein intake when you’ve begun or increased your exercise routine will help keep you motivated because protein increases our body’s ability to respond to exercise and tolerate an increase in exercise. It’s especially important to increase protein intake at the beginning of your exercise program to help your body adapt. Protein is the key nutrient that rebuilds our muscle tissue and gives us stamina for our workouts. Any exercise program should aim to maintain or increase your muscle mass while decreasing fat mass. If your diet provides inadequate protein, you’ll feel more easily fatigued and you’ll lose motivation because you won’t see the results you’re looking for. One easy way to make sure you’re getting enough protein is by making a protein shake, providing at least 20 grams of quality protein, whether whey-, pea-, hemp- or soy-derived, along with a good dose of carbohydrates as a post-workout recovery meal or snack. The carbohydrates help trigger an insulin response to drive the protein into your muscle cells.
Green tea – has been shown in a number of studies to support weight loss, specifically fat loss (which is the kind of weight loss we’re aiming for). We know that caffeine if taken just before an exercise bout will increase exercise performance and endurance, but green tea also supports weight loss independently of the effective of caffeine; green tea antioxidants like EGCG, epigallocatechin gallate, are considered to provide this benefit. As a bonus green tea is also a nice hot beverage to enjoy in the winter and has been shown to be antiviral with activity against various cold and flu viruses that can otherwise zap our energy.
Focus on Health, Not the Number on the Scale
So much of the weight loss industry is focused on pounds and kilograms and fitting into a schedule for losing them. What we know clinically is that there are naturally going to be peaks and valleys as you follow your exercise program and plateaus in your weight that don’t necessarily reflect your true progress in terms of health. This is because exercise changes your physiology and the relative proportions of fat to muscle in your body. So don’t be discouraged from exercising if you see that your weight isn’t changing rapidly. You’re probably increasing muscle mass while decreasing fat mass, and slow weight loss is more sustainable in the long term. If you’re exercising and you want to track numbers, I encourage patients to pay closer attention to their waist-hip ratio (think pear-shape vs. apple-shape) and the relative proportions of muscle, fat and water in their bodies, rather than the absolute number on the scale. A healthy waist-hip ratio is <0.80 for women and <0.95 for men.
When taking up a new exercise program – or making any other positive change in your life for that matter – you’ll be more successful if you have social support from your friends, family and health care practitioner backing you up. In particular, communicating your goals to others has a strong impact on making you more successful in achieving your fitness and health goals. As well, be sure to get individualized advice from a health or fitness professional who can help you establish and reach your goals safely and effectively.