By Caroline Kinneberg
It’s so easy to stay fit when the weather's good out -- the nice days keep you outdoors and active, while the warmth controls your appetite. Then the weather changes, 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 behaviour. “It's almost like a woman who's pregnant and thinks, 'I can eat anything I want!'” says Josh Margolis, founder of New York-based personal training service Mind Over Matter Health & Fitness. "You can, but it's not necessarily the right thing to do.” In other words, even if it's winter and cold, it doesn't mean you have to sit around and do nothing except eat and drink. If it were, the state of Colorado in the US would be full of fat people; instead, it has boasted the lowest percentage of obese adults in the US since 1990, a fact largely attributed to the population’s strong outdoor culture.
However, even if we accept that blaming the cold air and smog for our sloth-like habits is wrong, it can be tough to stay on track with health goals when it's cozy inside. To help, we asked fitness expert Margolis and nutrition expert Ilyse Schapiro, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian/nutritionist, for their best tips on how to stay healthy and happy during the months of changing weather and cold, foggy mornings.
Find a workout partner
It’s a dark morning, and your bed’s so warm and comfy... but you’re supposed to meet Nikhil for 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 sports team, or simply post on Facebook: "Hey, I'm going out for a run in the morning -- anybody interested in joining me?"
“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 are in season, so why not snack on a bowl of those instead of a bowl of chips?”
Choose healthy comfort foods
We crave thick, heavy food in cold weather. But instead of reaching for calorie-packed oily meals, heat up some hearty dal stew or rajma soup. Schapiro also recommends preparing recipes with low-fat instead of full-fat dairy and lean chicken versus mutton and red meat. As for carbs, always opt for whole grains, including brown rice, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat bread. For more ideas, check out EatingWell, Schapiro's go-to source for healthy recipes.
When you make a financial commitment to something, you tend to stick to it more. Likewise, spend money on a squash racket, climbing harness, running gear -- 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 of the door. Guilt is a brilliant motivator.
Get your beta-carotene
Anti-oxidants 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 anti-oxidant, and foods rich in it are readily available during winter. Carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli are all packed with the infection-fighting cells.
Pick up another sport
It's winter and there's snow in the hills, so go skiing or snowboarding in Gulmarg or Auli, or hike in the mountains. Or head south to the beach to play ultimage frisbee, or take up golf if you live in a pleasantly warm area. The winter season is a great reminder to mix up your workout and try new sports. “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 skills. Or simply get out there with your little cousins and play -- eight-year-old kids can make you burn more calories than NCC instructors.
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Caroline Kinneberg is a Paris-based journalist who has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe and Vice.