Style, Fashion and Grooming Tips for Men

Men's Life Today delivers style, fashion and grooming tips for today's man

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.

How Much Wooing Is Too Much?

Whether it’s professing love at first sight, loading her down with gifts or orchestrating a midnight mariachi band outside her window, some guys will say or do anything to woo the girl they want. But when do grand words and gestures cross into crazy-land?

We ask the Men’s Life Today Girl Panel™ to weigh in on real tales of wooing, as in which ones are sweet … and which are borderline psychotic. Take notes.

The Panel:

Lauren, 30

Veronica, 24

Lawrese, 22

Natalia, 25

Real Tales of Wooing


“A guy in high school once stole a picture of me as a little kid from my house, had it printed on a T-shirt, and wore it to school.”

Our panelist says:

“Now that is creepy. But I’d laugh if a guy brought me a cheesy T-shirt! Don’t be afraid to surprise her with something silly, especially if it has to do with an inside joke between the two of you.” -- Veronica

The Verdict:

Creepy.

“I was talking to this guy I liked on the phone when he told me to go outside to check out the moon that he was looking at from his dorm window hundreds of miles away. When I got outside, he was there to greet me.”

Our panelist says:

“Guys should make a surprise appearance every now and again.” -- Lawrese

The Verdict:

Sweet.

“A guy I was dating (not so seriously) got me real diamond earrings for my birthday.”

Our panelist says:

“They say diamonds are forever, and so they should be given to someone you know you’ll be with forever.” -- Lauren

The Verdict:

Creepy.

“I was on my way home from a family vacation when the guy I was dating snuck into my family’s house mid-blizzard to turn on the heat so we’d be warm when we got home.”

Our panelist says:

“I like that he snuck in so she could be warm. It would only be creepy if they weren’t dating!” -- Natalia

The Verdict:

Sweet.

“After keeping score of our scrabble game on the back of my business card, my date kept the card and used the address on it to send flowers to my office the next week.”

Our panelist says:

“I prefer to keep gifts to birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, but it’s OK to throw in surprise flowers a few days a year for good measure. -- Veronica

The Verdict:

Sweet.

“A kid I met online one summer took me out to dinner once. Four days later, he had called me, left a voicemail and texted me three times. I responded to say I wasn’t interested in him. Later that summer, he texted me again to offer me a VIP card to a club I like and another chance to go out with him.”

Our panelist says:

“I guess I would call that persistent. But after you tell someone you’re not interested, that kind of crosses the line.” -- Lawrese

The Verdict:

Creepy.

“A guy I’d gone out with only once before offered to cook me dinner at his apartment.”

Our panelist says:

“Making dinner is a thoughtful and cute gesture, but at this point seems like a ploy to get her over.” -- Lauren

The Verdict:

Creepy.

The CD Solution

When was the last time you bought a compact disc? For many of us, that’s like asking your buddy about his latest VHS purchase. But what about all those shiny discs you bought before the advent of iTunes, peer-to-peer sharing, music streaming and cloud storage made it so easy to find music online and access it on the device of your choice? In other words, is Fatboy Slim still staring at you from a CD tower, its jewel case growing dustier with each passing year?

Antiquated though they may seem, CDs should not be consigned to the digital trash heap -- at least not until you’ve gotten what you need from them. For starters, the music quality is far superior to that in an MP3. The MP3 is a small file for a reason: It doesn’t contain anywhere near the amount of data (and thus fidelity) that a track on a CD does. Secondly, although the selections offered on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify are enough to keep your head banging for a lifetime, chances are you own some eclectic albums that you won’t find in any of those libraries.

So what’s a guy to do about all those CDs that haven’t seen the light of day since “Friends” was a staple of Thursday night TV? You’ve got two options: DIY and outsourcing.

The DIY Route

If you’re on a Mac and use iTunes to manage your music, you’ll find an option under “Preferences” (within the iTunes pull-down menu) to import songs automatically on insertion of a CD. Select that option. Also in this menu you’ll find your import settings. To import your music at the highest quality possible (provided that space isn’t an issue) select AIFF Encoder or Apple Lossless Encoder. If storage space is an issue, you can import your music as MP3s. As noted above, though, the MP3 format makes use of crafty (though some say undetectable) audio compromises to keep the files small.

If you’re on a PC and don’t use iTunes, there is software both free (e.g., Winamp) and paid (e.g., Nero and Winamp Pro) that can assist you with the music-importing process. These time-saving programs will also help you manage your music library once you’re done importing your CDs. On a PC (and again, providing storage space is not an issue), you’ll want to import the songs in either .WAV or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

The good news is that regardless of whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, the software will do most of the heavy lifting for you (including finding album artwork and ID’ing the tracks on your CDs automatically). But you’ll still be stuck with the mind-numbing task of popping the CDs in and out of the computer every several minutes -- with the time for ripping dependent on the format you select.

Once you’ve imported a few discs, test the extracted music by streaming it to your various devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone). Make sure the format you’ve selected will not prove problematic -- or acoustically unsatisfying -- on any of them. (Not all cloud services will accept the higher-resolution files, for example.) Once you’re pleased with the results, finish ripping the rest of your CDs. And when you’re finally done, back up! Save your music files on a large external drive (or two) and, for safekeeping, on a cloud-storage server as well.

Outsourcing

Find a service that will convert all of your CDs to digital files and put them onto a hard drive or music player for you. (Google “CD conversion” or use one of the services below.) Ship out your CDs in a box -- typically provided -- and expect to pay anywhere from 25 cents to more than $2.00 per disc, depending on the final format you select. Some companies will clean your discs prior to importing and even attempt to repair damaged ones. Firms such as Pickled Productions will give you a bound, printed inventory of your music collection. RipStyles can recycle your jewel case and return the CDs in a portfolio instead.

When selecting a company, compare included services as well as extras such as shipping costs and insurance. And to make sure you’ll see your precious music collection again, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints from other customers.

Once you’ve gotten your music back, if you’re an iTunes user, you can pay Apple $25 for a new service called iMatch, to which you can upload all of your ripped CD content. Once your files are in the cloud, that music -- along with any music you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store -- will automatically be placed in your music “locker,” accessible to you on all of your iOS devices via the Web.

Google’s Music Beta (free for up to 20,000 songs) and Amazon’s Music Cloud (MP3 and AAC only) offer cloud hosting of your music files too. But be prepared for a long initial upload that can take hours, if not days. This won’t tie up your computer entirely, but it will slow down your Internet connection.

Regardless of whether you go for the DIY route or the outsourced one, you will love having all of your music at your fingertips all the time. Now your biggest dilemma won’t be where to keep your music, but what to do with the space where that CD tower used to be.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/ishai01