In the chilly, damp, dark months of the year, I hear a common refrain: “It will be easier to pay attention to nutrition and exercise once summer is here.” It’s true that summer somehow seems synonymous with all things “healthy” — at least when the air isn’t filled with smoke. Ample daylight hours make both morning and evening exercise safer and more appealing. The abundance of fresh, often local produce makes eating fruits and vegetables fun. So how do you sustain healthy summer habits with the sun swiftly fading?
If you go into the seasonal shift without a plan, a few months from now you might hear yourself saying, “Well, I was walking every day, but it got cold and dark and now I’m really not getting any exercise …” or “I was doing great all summer, eating lots of salads, but now salads don’t sound good, and … I don’t think I ate any vegetables at all yesterday.”
Here’s what to do instead:
1. Get the right gear. There are very few days when you can’t exercise outdoors in relative comfort — as long as you have the right clothing. In Seattle, head-to-toe rain gear is the first priority, unless you like feeling soggy. Simply adjust how many layers you wear underneath as the temperature fluctuates. Light colors, reflective striping or clip-on safety lights will help you stay visible to drivers and bicyclists in the dark.
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2. Move indoors. What if having good rain gear can’t entice you to get outside in December, even though you walk, run or bike your heart out in the summer? Look into joining a gym during the “off season” — even if you aren’t crazy about gyms. Let’s face it, if the thought of exercising in the rain makes you wilt, the gym is a lesser evil. Start scoping out gyms near your home or work now — many let you try them out for free for a few days, or even up to a week. Another option is the ClassPass (classpass.com), which lets you take classes at more than 200 studios in the Greater Seattle area.
3. Recalibrate your plate. In summer, cool, crisp salads have a natural appeal that may fade with the sun, but your body’s need for vegetables doesn’t stop when the seasons change. If you find yourself craving warm, nourishing foods, switch from salads to roasted vegetables, and celebrate the fact that heating up your oven — and kitchen — is once again a good thing. Roast big pans of broccoli, cauliflower, beets and other vegetables, and enjoy them fresh from the oven, reheated in scrambled eggs or other dishes, or even as a base for a more substantial cold salad. Warm up your kitchen even more by making a pot of vegetable-packed soup or stew.
4. Enlist a friend or partner. If you’re happy walking or running no matter what the weather throws at you, but darkness raises safety concerns, think safety in numbers. Rally a friend or partner to stay fit with you, or join a running or walking group.
5. Gravitate toward the sun. Have you noticed how houseplants reach toward the nearest window? We need the sun, too, especially when daylight is in short supply. Even if you aren’t prone to seasonal affective disorder (with its appropriate acronym, SAD), cloudy winter days can make us feel lethargic, unmotivated and even a little blue. That’s all the more reason to get yourself outside on days when it’s sunny but cold. Exposure to sun elevates your mood — and so does staying active.