Health

Getting fit, feeling good and staying healthy

How to switch gears as we swap seasons

By BrighterLife.ca

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Image of a mother and son enjoying the fall and having a balanced life of sleep, activity and heathy diet.The semi-annual changing of our clocks marks more than just the changing seasons. It also means rearranging our routines. It can be harder to shake the kids awake for school during dark mornings. We start swapping many of our outdoor activities for indoor ones. Plus, we may be forced to deal with seasonal mood swings.

Changing seasons can also mean letting important habits, such as diet and exercise, fall by the wayside. Even though 63% of Canadians acknowledge that patterns of unhealthy behaviours can lead to poor health, the Sun Life Canadian Health Index shows that only 22% of those who make yearly resolutions related to health and wellness say they keep them. The survey also shows that willpower is the number one barrier to success.

If you find yourself struggling with willpower as the days grow shorter, consider making some changes in these key areas:

Sleep

Sleep patterns can naturally shift with the seasons without us even realizing it. Many of us find it’s easy to bounce out of bed on warm, sunny summer mornings. But when the leaves begin to turn and we have to wake up to a cold, dark sky, we may find we just want to snuggle back down under the covers.

Dr. Penny Corkum, a psychologist and sleep researcher at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, says there’s no “great biological shift” that happens to our bodies when seasons change. Often, our bodies just need to adjust to a more demanding routine. For kids who may have slept in a little later during the summer months that may mean adjusting to an earlier start for school and evenings of extracurricular activities that can take a lot out of a young body.

Corkum, who specializes in the sleep patterns of children, suggests many kids with sleep problems could be suffering from poor “sleep hygiene,” meaning they don’t practise good pre-sleep habits. Poor sleep hygiene may include exercising too close to bedtime, not being active enough throughout the day, keeping bright lights on late, drinking coffee or other caffeine-laden drinks and watching TV or playing video games, which can over stimulate the mind, just before trying to fall asleep. Improving sleep hygiene can help children to be better able to both sleep soundly and adjust to a different schedule.

Exercise

Exercise is often one of the first things we let slip as we head into winter. Shorter and cooler days can naturally decrease our activity level as we’d rather be curled up on the couch than running around the block. But keeping exercise a part of our daily routine can help fight the winter blues.

Just ask James Schwartz. The Toronto-based founder of Urban Country, a cycling advocacy blog, rarely takes a break from his fitness routine. In fact, Schwartz cycles year-round, even throughout our tough Canadian winters.

“When I ride my bike in the winter, I always get a kick out of the people standing at the bus stop shivering because it is so cold outside,” he says. “When you are waiting for a bus your body never really gets a chance to warm up because you aren’t moving. On a bike, you warm up in three minutes or less.”

Even if winter cycling isn’t for you, the benefits of physical activity make it worthwhile to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle. Try taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator or slip out for a quick stroll during lunch. Make fitness a part of your family’s routine by attending public skates at the local rink on the weekend.

Balanced diet

Another aspect of our lives that can take an unhealthy hit during the winter is our diet. Cold weather often means comfort foods: warm, rich meals that can wreak havoc on our waistlines. Time crunches may also leave us reaching for the quick and easy over the nutritious. However, quick and easy meals can also be nutritious if you plan properly.

If you’re a fan of oatmeal, you may be tempted to reach for the instant version, which can be loaded with sugar. Instead, prepare a pot of steel-cut oats the night before. They taste great reheated and you can add a handful of dried fruit and nuts for flavour and added nutrition.

Keep containers with chopped veggies handy in the refrigerator for on-the-go snacks or to toss into vegetable soups or stews. And opting for a fruit and veggie smoothie in the morning means you can take it on the road if needed.

Don’t forget that omega-3 fatty acids can be especially beneficial in the winter months. Besides lowering our risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, these essential acids — found in salmon, lake trout and albacore tuna — can also combat some of the symptoms that come along with the winter blues, including dry skin, depression, mood swings and fatigue.

By making healthy sleep patterns, exercise and a balanced diet a part of your daily routine, you won’t need to rely on willpower alone to get you through seasonal changes.

School smarts Get more bright ideas for back-to-school.

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