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routine tweaks for colder months: man reading book with tea

How To Stay Healthy And Motivated As The Holidays Approach

As fall begins to transition into winter, long days and cool breezes shift into early sunsets and freezing temps, impacting your everyday life activities. Evening walks become fewer and farther between, and warm, creamy soups for lunch start to really hit the spot.

Consequently, the slowdown of the winter season has very real effects on your body. First off, your body has to work harder to maintain your internal temperature and requires abundant nutrients to do so, says Dr. Julie Chen, M.D., co-founder of Wisdom in Wellness.

Plus, “the lack of sunlight is associated with lower vitamin D levels, which are in turn associated with feelings of depression and fatigue,” adds Dr. Saloumeh Bozorgzadeh, PsyD, owner of Evolve Wellness. Less sunlight also means less production of the hormone serotonin, which can contribute to changes in mood and energy, notes dietitian Sarah Koszyk, R.D.N., author of 25 Anti-Aging Smoothies for Revitalizing, Glowing Skin.

Throw in an always-hectic holiday season and many people might find it a real challenge to stay healthy and motivated. Keep these expert-backed lifestyle tweaks in mind to make sure your wellness routine remains intact as the holiday season approaches.

1. Hydrate With Soothing Sips

Though hydration is often much-talked-about in the hotter summer months, it’s just as important to keep up with when the weather cools off. Thing is, without the beating sun or dripping sweat to remind you to drink up, you might find yourself forgetting to sip. In fact, when the temperature decreases, people may be less likely to feel thirsty and ultimately drink enough water, says Koszyk. 

If you find yourself facing cravings or uncontrollable hunger throughout the winter, dehydration may be to blame. “Hydration can help with hunger levels because many times we think we’re hungry, but we’re really thirsty,” Koszyk says. 

And if that icy glass of water (understandably) just doesn’t appeal this time of year, enjoy more cozy beverages, like tea, matcha lattes, and golden milk, Koszyk suggests. Just make sure to stick to decaffeinated or herbal options in the evening, when you’re trying to wind down.

Whatever drinks you choose to enjoy, you’ll also want to make sure your mugfuls add up. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that women get in 2.3 liters of water per day, while men get 3.3.

2. Follow your Changing cravings 

According to Koszyk, the winter brings changes in our bodies that may make us crave energy-dense comfort foods. Think about it from an evolutionary perspective: “When it’s cold, our bodies need enough fuel to survive the potentially harsh winter conditions,” she explains. So go ahead and indulge in nourishing, hearty meals this time of year.

To fuel your body with all the energy it needs, Raleigh-based private practice dietitian Christine Byrne M.P.H., R.D., recommends leaning into a nutritious variety of warming meals, like the following:

  • Breakfast: Eggs or oatmeal, which are nutrient-rich and satisfying 
  • Lunch: Warm grains bowls or hearty stews, both of which are easy to prep ahead of time and reheat
  • Dinner: Braised meats, roasted vegetables, and cheese-and-veggie-filled pasta dishes

Koszyk also recommends soups throughout the colder months. “They are so comforting and can be packed with immune-supporting nutrients,” she says. Plus, “soups that have lots of vegetables and legumes or beans are also full of fiber, which fills us up and can increase serotonin [a.k.a. ‘the happy hormone’] levels,” she adds. Sounds like an invitation to make your grandma’s famous three-bean chili, doesn’t it?

Read More: 6 Soup Recipes That Nutritionists Love For Immune Health

If you’re put off by the time investment of DIYing soups and stews, “batch-cook a soup recipe once a week to have on hand for an easy-to-heat-up meal on those cold winter days,” Koszyk.

The bottom line: Don’t second-guess your cravings. There’s a reason you’re not interested in crisp salads during the colder months.

3. manage your stress levels 

“The holidays are a time where things like social media and Hallmark movies can make us feel inadequate,” according to naturopath Dr. Kate Firisin, N.D. “Having the perfect holiday party, gifts, getting our children the latest and greatest, and doing it all with a smile, is just too much for most people.” 

For many, these increased stressors can overwhelm some of the joy of the season. So, Firisin recommends participating in self-care activities like meditation and exercising to keep your mind and body in a good state.

4. Soak Up Whatever Sun You Can

According to this study, a daily dose of vitamin D may be all you need to get through the colder months in a great mood. Not only is the nutrient important for immune health, but it also plays a notable role in mood, Chen says. Whenever possible, get some exposure to direct sunlight, ideally in the morning. Not only does doing so feel nourishing as temperatures drop, but it can also provide some vitamin D.

Read More: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency

However, since winter means less sunlight in certain regions, dietitian Elise Harlow, M.S., R.D.N., recommends checking your vitamin D status and taking a supplement as needed. Maintaining a vitamin D level of at least 40 ng/ml is ideal, according to Chen, so just how far off you are will determine how much vitamin D you need to take. 

Additionally, you might also want to consider using a lightbox, especially if you find your mood dips during this time of year. “Aim for about 10,000 lux lightbox and position it about 16 to 24 inches from your face for about 30 minutes per day,” suggests Chen.

5. Enjoy Celebratory sweets mindfully 

From Halloween candy straight through to that New Year’s champagne toast, this time of year can be absolutely loaded with sugar. And as delightful as they are, most sweets are typically high in simple sugars and processed starches that can worsen inflammation, lower your energy and mood, and impair immune function, according to Chen. 

To enjoy holiday goodies while still prioritizing your health, Firisin recommends creating guard rails that will limit your sugar intake. For example, make sure to eat a balanced meal before heading to holiday gatherings and bring a healthy dish along with you.

Otherwise, get creative with more nutritious alternatives to some of the indulgences you crave. Check out these healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods, these leveled-up holiday treat recipes, and these plant-based dishes worthy of any holiday gathering. 

6. Embrace the slowdown of the season

No, you’re not lazy; it’s totally natural to move a little more slowly this time of year. London-based therapist Sally Baker and Bozorgzadeh agree: Wintertime is the season of introspection, in which we feel the urge to slow down, reflect, and plan.

“Take this as a time to recharge your batteries and do the small and satisfying things that make you feel comforted and protected,” Baker recommends. Whether it’s looking back through old photographs or journals, or treating yourself to a grounding weighted blanket, embrace your desire to get cozy and rest.

This is also the ideal time to start a journaling or meditation practice. “You can start by writing down three things that you are grateful for each day and spending 10 minutes doing a guided meditation,” adds Bozorgzadeh.  

7. Find New Ways To Stay Active

Tempted to ditch the gym routine and quite literally hibernate when the holiday season rolls around? It’s a relatable feeling, but perhaps not one to give into completely—especially considering exercise improves mood and works to ease anxiety and depression, benefits that feel especially relevant during the colder months.

If the treadmill just doesn’t appeal this time of year, consider it a great opportunity to embrace cold weather activities like ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, suggests personal trainer Holly Roser, C.P.T. She recommends challenging yourself to try a new form of winter fun every week or so to find one that best matches your interests and abilities.

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