Fight the Winter Blues

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 10 Americans suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to our completely unscientific reckoning, the rest of us get totally bummed out in the winter too. How could we not? We wake up to darkness, we commute home in darkness, and it’s as cold as a witch’s you-know-what outside.

Fortunately, there are ways to beat the gloom, beyond buying a one-way ticket to Miami. We contacted a basket of experts -- including the man who first discovered SAD -- for advice on how to combat the winter funk. So rise and shine; it’s time to bring the sunshine back!

The SAD Specialist
The major cause of SAD is lack of light. So my advice to sufferers is simple: Get more light! You can do this by walking outdoors (especially in the morning), bringing more light into your home, or using special light fixtures. If you opt for light therapy fixtures, remember that bigger is often better, mornings are usually the best time to use the lights, and you needn’t stare at the light -- just sit in front of it with your eyes open. Light therapy usually works within four days or so. -- Dr. Normal Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

The Yoga Instructor

When posture improves, so does confidence. People who feel down have slumped shoulders, a collapsed chest and a tendency to look downward. This posture puts pressure on the heart and stops the diaphragm from moving freely. Yoga postures increase blood flow, which flushes the muscles, organs and glandular system of waste while delivering oxygen and nutrients. They also soften the muscles, allowing the energy lines of the body to open and restoring balance to your nervous system. -- Ducky Punch, founder of Yummy Yoga

The Naturopath
Try St. John’s Wort, which serves as a tonic for the nervous system and balances mood. Ashwagandha helps you cope with stress and environmental changes, and astragalus restores energy and helps prevent lethargy. You can also try certain vitamin supplements. B6 will help with mood, as will vitamin E. Magnesium is good for anxiety, insomnia and winter aches. -- Dr. Kathia Roberts of the Seasonal Health Wellness Center

The Life Coach
Tell the truth. When the seasons change, be honest about what makes you happy and go after it. For example, when mornings get cold and dark, you might be inclined to hide from life under your blankets. But if what actually makes you happy is to get your blood flowing, then that’s what you must do. The no-snooze-button rule is a good one. -- Will Craig, director of educational programming at the Handel Group

The Personal Trainer

When we are physically fit, we manage stress better. The most effective way to get out of a rut this winter is to work out. Most any kind of exercise will help, from Pilates to cardio, just as long as you’re physically active. Like the quote says: “If it’s physical, it’s therapy!” I recommend a strength-training program since it naturally increases your body’s testosterone levels, which will increase your feelings of well-being and confidence. -- Kevin Kohout at Personal Trainer Los Angeles

The Nutritionist

Eating mini-meals throughout the day is a good idea. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids relieve symptoms of depression; you can find these in fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, or walnuts and flaxseed. If you can cut out caffeine, sugar and alcohol, do so! Alcohol and caffeine are both mood-altering and habit-forming substances, and too much sugar can lead to fatigue and mood swings, wiping out any benefit of serotonin. Finally, stay hydrated. Do not replace water, the liquid of life, with any other beverage. -- Carrie Wiatt of Diet Designs

The Happiness Expert

Go for a walk. In the winter, it’s easy to get in the habit of hurrying from one indoor space to the next, but it’s dreary to be inside all the time. You’ll get a jolt of energy and cheer -- and also boost your mental focus and productivity -- if you take a quick walk outside, where you can get the sun in your eyes and experience the weather. Even bad weather can be therapeutic! -- Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project

The Therapist

The best way to combat depression is to be proactive about avoiding a spiraling mood. When you experience depressive thinking -- like “I give up” or “Why bother?” -- try to recognize these thoughts and adjust them. If the world seems hostile and painful, remind yourself that this might not be true; you just feel terrible today. And do what you don’t feel like doing: Start an exercise program or get involved with a group of people. Don’t let the negative thoughts win! -- Doric George at Visions of Freedom Therapy

Stay Fit and Trim All Winter Long

It’s so easy to stay fit in the summer -- the beautiful days keep you outdoors and active, while the heat controls your appetite. Then the weather turns, and every day it seems you’re moving just a little bit less and eating just a little bit more.

But when you think about it, there’s really no excuse for such behavior. “It’s almost like a woman who’s pregnant and thinks, ‘I can eat anything I want!’” says Joshua Margolis, founder of New York City–based personal training service Mind Over Matter Health & Fitness. “You can, but it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.” In other words, winter is not a license to sit around and stuff your face. If it were, Colorado would be a state full of fat people; instead, it has boasted the nation’s lowest percentage of obese adults since 1990, a fact largely attributed to the population’s strong outdoor culture.

However, even if we accept that blaming the cold for our sloth-like habits is wrong, it can be tough to stay on track with health goals when it’s cozy inside and miserable outside. To help, we asked fitness expert Margolis and nutrition expert Ilyse Schapiro, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian/nutritionist at Brown & Medina Nutrition in New York City, for their best tips on how to stay healthy and happy during those long months of sleet and snow.

Eat Citrus
“Winter is cold and flu season, so it’s more important than ever to keep your immune system functioning at its best,” says Schapiro, who recommends taking vitamin C to give it that extra boost. “Oranges and clementines are in season, so why not put out a bowl of those during the game instead of a bowl of chips?”

Find a Workout Partner
It’s a dark, bitter morning, and your bed’s so warm and comfy ... but you’re supposed to meet Joe at indoor tennis in 30 minutes. Says Margolis: “Having a buddy to exercise with automatically creates accountability and responsibility.” If you’re in need of a partner, ask that guy you always see at the gym or someone from your intramural sport team, or simply post on Facebook: “Hey, I’m going out for a run in the morning. Anybody interested in joining?”

Choose Healthy Comfort Foods
We crave thick, heavy food in the winter. But instead of reaching for a can of calorie-packed cream-based soup, heat up some hearty lentil stew or veggie chili. Schapiro also recommends preparing recipes with low-fat instead of full-fat dairy and lean ground turkey versus ground beef. As for carbs, always opt for whole grains, including whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat couscous, quinoa and brown rice. For more ideas, check out EatingWell, Schapiro’s go-to source for healthy recipes.

Buy Winter Workout Gear
When you make a financial commitment to something, you tend to stick to it more. Likewise, spend money on a parka, goggles, base layers, ice tools -- the sky’s the limit -- and you’re probably not going to let them go to waste. For an extra guarantee, put your purchases somewhere you’ll see them every time you come in or out the door. Guilt is a brilliant motivator.

Get Your Beta-carotene
Antioxidants protect against damage to cells and can help fight diseases and illnesses from cancer to the common cold. If you increase your intake in the winter, says Schapiro, you can stave off or shorten the length of a cold. Beta-carotene is one major antioxidant, and foods rich in it are readily available during winter. Carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli are all in season and are packed with the infection-fighting cells.

Pick up a Winter Sport
Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice hockey, ice climbing, snowmobiling … “An inordinate number of fitness disciplines require colder temperatures,” says Margolis. The winter season is a great reminder to mix up your workout. “If you’re doing the same thing repeatedly,” explains Margolis, “your body gradually gets used to it, and the energy you expend decreases. It’s no longer as challenging for your body.” Ramp up your workout by testing new cold-weather skills. Or simply get out there with your little cousins and have a snowball fight; 8-year-old kids can make you burn more calories than drill sergeants.

The Healthy Man’s Guide to Food Shopping

You get home from work, open the fridge, close it and proceed to order a pizza. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself you don’t know how to cook. The real problem? You don’t know how to shop.

Even a master chef can’t make anything of his time in the kitchen if it’s not properly equipped. Below, food experts tell you what groceries to buy -- and give you a few easy recipes -- so that no matter what time you get home or how tired you are, you’ll always be able to whip up a quick, healthy and delicious dinner.

For Your Cupboard
The following items should always be tucked away in your pantry:

  • High-quality olive oil
  • A few vinegars (maybe an aged balsamic and a red wine vinegar)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • An assortment of dried pastas
  • Rice

Matt Moore, chef and author of Have Her Over for Dinner: A Gentleman’s Guide to Classic, Simple Meals, suggests trying microwaveable whole-grain rice bags, which are ready in 90 seconds, as opposed to the 50 minutes of boiling that some types of rice need. “You pay a bit more than if you buy in bulk, but the convenience factor is undeniable.”

For Your Freezer

  • Your favorite veggies: They can keep for eight months to a year and make a vitamin-packed side dish in an instant. And they’re no less healthy than fresh ones. “Frozen veggies are sometimes even more nutritious,” says Ilyse Schapiro, dietitian, nutritionist and owner of Ilyse Schapiro Nutrition in Scarsdale, N.Y. “They’re picked and frozen right at the peak of ripeness, when they contain the most nutrients.” By contrast, fresh veggies are often picked before they’re completely ripe, and then they have to survive harsh travel conditions.
  • Frozen shrimp: Keeps up to four months. According to Moore, there’s no need to defrost shrimp for up to 48 hours in the fridge as you should with frozen chicken breast, pork chops or steak. Simply run them under water for six to eight minutes, and if they’re pre-peeled, toss them straight into a hot pan with some garlic. Saute quickly and add to pasta or rice. With a veggie as a side, you’ve got a complete balanced meal in fewer than 15 minutes.

For Your Fridge

  • Salad basics: For a simple, no-utensils-needed salad, Shapiro recommends buying bags of prewashed lettuce, precut veggies and cherry tomatoes. Mix them with balsamic vinegar, oil and salt from your cupboard, and throw in an easy, inexpensive protein like sliced turkey or a hard-boiled egg.
  • Flavorful toppings: Antioxidant-packed minced garlic (in a little glass jar so you don’t have to do the work), a lemon and refrigerated pesto. The fridge is where you can store flavorful ingredients that’ll give bang to your cooking. Also, instead of spending $6.99 on a jar of dried herbs that you’ll probably never finish, purchase fresh root-based herbs like thyme and rosemary, which last for more than a month. “They’re versatile,” says Moore. “You can use rosemary with lamb, beef, chicken or potatoes, and thyme with its lemony essence blends great with fish, chicken or shrimp.”

When your kitchen is well-stocked, says Moore, you can cook from what he calls a “European standpoint” (i.e., focus on “simple and clean flavors” and shop daily). It sounds daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. “I know I have the essentials stocked at home,” says Moore, “so instead of meal-planning, I just run into the store to pick up a fresh protein or vegetable based on what looks good or what I’m in the mood for.”

Moore’s Easy One-skillet Chicken Recipe
Moore’s go-to quick meal is prepared entirely in one skillet. Saute chicken tenderloins -- which are small and cook quickly -- in salt, pepper and olive oil until they’re brown. Dump in a small can of San Marzano tomatoes and some green beans. Top it off with cheese. “You have lean protein, bite from the tomato, color from the veggies, and some kind of indulgence from the cheese,” says Moore. “It’s great for guys working out who are looking for hearty low-carb meals.”

Finally, say our experts, you shouldn’t look at food shopping as a chore; rather, think of it as a reward for yourself after a long, hard day. Whereas processed foods often leave you hungry, a home-cooked meal provides long-lasting fuel -- and a level of satisfaction you just can’t get from picking up the phone and dialing Domino’s.

Is Your Skin Spot Cancerous? The Skinny on Moles

The importance of wearing sunscreen to prevent skin cancer has been drilled into your head since the day you were born. But you’re way too young to start inspecting yourself for iffy moles, right? Actually, say dermatologists, you’re not. Dr. Jessica Krant, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and founder of Art of Dermatology in New York City, says the time to start is now. “If you get used to how your moles and skin look when nothing is wrong, you’ll be ready to notice changes over time,” she explains, adding that, though rare, “skin cancer does occur in teens and even in children, so there really is no age too young to start knowing your skin.” But how can you “know” your skin? When is a mole just a mole, and when is it a sign of something worse? To answer these questions and more, here are three healthy habits you should be using to keep tabs on your body’s largest organ.

No. 1: Get an annual checkup.
Make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for a complete head-to-toe skin cancer screening. For most people, this will become an annual event, but depending on your skin type and coloring, sun exposure, and family skin cancer history, you may need to go more often. “Everyone is truly different, so your dermatologist should work with you to figure out the schedule that works best for your situation,” says Krant.

No. 2: Check yourself using the ABCDE’s.
In between dermatological visits, you need to inspect your own skin. In order to get to know what’s normal for you, Krant suggests looking at easy-to-see spots once a month. Less visible areas can be looked at every four to six months. Although cancers are more likely to develop in parts of the body that are more exposed to the sun, they can still form in areas the sun doesn’t see. That means a complete skin exam includes the bottoms of your feet, in between your toes, your scalp and your underwear area. “Use a mirror to look at hard-to-see areas,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research for the Department of Dermatology of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Ask your wife or girlfriend to check out your back.”

What you’re looking for, says Zeichner, is the ABCDE’s of moles.

A = Asymmetry, when one side of the mole does not look like the other side
B = Border, when the border of the mole is irregular and not round
C = Color, when there are various shades of brown, black, blue, or white in the mole
D = Diameter changing (according to Krant, dermatologists used to warn against moles that are larger than a pencil eraser, but doctors now know that melanomas can be smaller)
E = Evolution, when the mole changes over time

Another general guideline, says Krant, is to search for anything that looks different from when you last saw it or that doesn’t look like most of the other marks on you. “There are three main types of skin cancer,” she explains. “Each is formed when a different skin cell type goes bad.” When a brown mole turns malignant, it forms melanoma, the least common but deadliest skin cancer. But there is also a type of melanoma that has no brown pigment; it can look pink or red and is easily overlooked. “Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, can appear as a clear ‘pearly’ bump, a flat white scar-like patch, or a pimple-like sore that may bleed and heal and then bleed again,” says Krant. Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a flaky, scaly red bump, or a small patch that looks like a rash but won’t heal.

No. 3: When in doubt, call a professional.
With all the different places on your body to check and all the different types of spots to look out for, it can feel overwhelming. Just do the best you can to keep track of your skin, and head to your specialist if you spy something that makes you uneasy. At the very least, he or she will reassure you that it’s benign. And if it isn’t, rest assured you did the right thing: All three types of skin cancers are potentially deadly, but they’re also curable if caught early.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/zuzusaturn

The Workplace Workout

Experts agree the best time to exercise is midmorning or midday, when testosterone and general energy levels peak. But if you’re like most of us, that’s smack in the middle of your workday. So, do you relegate your workouts to sub-peak hours? Quit your job and go freelance so you can control your schedule? Not necessary, says Tom Seabourne, tae kwon do champion, TV host and author of 16 books. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Quick Total Body Workouts, is based on an appealing premise: You can work out every part of your body right at your desk.

“Everyone can find a few minutes a few times a day to get a quick full-body workout,” argues Seabourne. “You’ve got to get your blood pumping and get out of your seat.” By focusing on fast-twitch, Type IIB muscle fibers, Seabourne’s program will “increase your anaerobic and aerobic power, get your blood flowing, burn additional calories and help to energize your day,” he says. That’s not a bad set of outcomes, but perhaps an even more compelling argument for workplace workouts is the slate of recent studies showing that sitting for long periods of time can wreak havoc on your health -- even if you exercise regularly before or after work.

Below are 12 exercises that together will give you a total body workout, whether you have your own office or sit in a cubicle. Admittedly, a few of them may raise some eyebrows, depending on your office culture, but many can be done without anyone being the wiser. And even if your co-workers snicker at first, when they see the results -- both on your body and in your level of productivity -- they’ll be lining up at your desk for tips.

1. Swap out your core-killing office chair for a Swiss ball. Even better, if you have the means and your boss is laid back about such things, attach your computer to an exercise bike.

2. Pace back and forth while on the phone. If you have your own office, get a long cord and use the extent of it. If you’re in a cube and pacing would bother your co-workers, then march in place.

3. Do 45-degree planks on your desk while reading. First, bend your arms at a 90-degree angle and place your forearms on your desk. Then step backwards to form a plank from your shoulders to your ankles. Contract your core and hold for 30 seconds.

4. Drop a pencil and do some push-ups -- a couple of max sets (go to fatigue, generally 10 to 25 reps) a day, two to three times a week. Notice how quickly you’re able to increase your reps.

5. Do some dips in your chair before sitting down. With your heels on the ground, hands on the chair arms, and both legs straight and pointed away from you, lower yourself to the chair by bending your arms until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle. Then push back up for five to 15 reps. (If you’ve already swapped your chair for a Swiss ball, sit on the edge of your desk with a straight back, curl your hands around that same edge and place your calves on the ball, legs straight. Slide your butt away from the desk so your hips can descend toward the ground. That’s your starting position for the dip.)

6. Do squats while on a conference call. Keep doing them until you begin to lose your form or the call ends. Or until you start to talk funny.

7. Press your heels into the floor while typing. This easy and discreet move trains your quads, glutes and hams isometrically.

8. Pump your arms as fast as you can, like you’re sprinting. Go for 15 seconds, adding two seconds a week until you can do a full-minute arm-sprint.

9. Place a ball between your knees and squeeze. Do three sets of 10, and hold for three seconds per rep.

10. Do heel raises at the water cooler/fountain. Fifteen reps twice a day will work your calf muscles.

11. Do two-arm biceps curls while staring at your computer screen. Leave two (cheap) dumbbells at work and do two sets of 10 reps every other day. Bring heavier weights to the office as you get stronger.

12. Similarly, do dumbbell shoulder presses in front of your computer. Start with two sets of 10 reps and increase the weight as you get stronger.