It’s cold outside. The television is on too often, and your “get up and go” went south with the birds. Sound familiar? Most of us experience a feeling of lethargy as winter weather descends upon us, bringing colder temperatures and less sunlight. Combating these sluggish feelings that seem to arrive with winter isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think. Incorporating a few simple activities into your weekly routine can have you energized, and possibly even enjoying winter.
In many areas of the world, winter means fewer hours of natural sunlight, one of the root causes of the winter blues. (Some scientists theorize the lack of sunlight produces unstable and disruptive amounts of both melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood.) It is crucial; therefore, that you get outdoors for about thirty minutes a day. Should you ever feel significant depression with the arrival of winter you may be suffering from the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where treatment with a light box and counsel from your doctor will be needed in addition to the tips given here. SAD affects roughly four times as many women as it does men.
The benefits of exercise for the health of our bodies are well-known, but recent studies also show exercise increases our sense of well-being and focus, likely from a boost in serotonin. If both exercise and sunlight are beneficial, why not combine the two? The easiest of all exercise is brisk walking. Dress in layers, so that on longer walks you can take off a layer or two as your body generates heat, and remember to stay hydrated. During weekdays, many people leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark, and “sunshine walking” seems impossible. One solution is to walk on your lunch break. Once you get into the walking routine during your workdays, try a different outdoor activity on weekends. Cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and skating are all good choices, but perhaps the easiest and most convenient of winter sports is snowshoeing. Modern snowshoes made with lightweight aluminum frames and nylon decking provide more comfortable walking than the traditional wooden style. Add crampons, and you can leave the flatlands and head into the mountains without fear of slipping on ice. (Remember to stretch your muscles during a warm-up period prior to snowshoeing because cold weather tightens muscles.)
There are some winter days when it’s simply too cold or icy to get outdoors, but you should use those days to get aerobic exercise at an indoor facility. Swimming, riding a stationary bike, and jogging on a treadmill are all good choices. Doing a half hour to an hour of cardio exercise can do wonders for both your mood and your waistline. When you’re finished you feel a sense of accomplishment, and many people report feeling more energized for two or three hours after the exercise is over. If you prefer not to join a health club, lots of folks join groups that take brisk walks at indoor malls. And if you want a more social form of exercise, co-ed volleyball is a great choice. Many town recreation departments offer volleyball, basketball, and other team sports.
When you look outside your home in winter, chances are you see shades of gray, brown, white, and blue. Counter these colors inside your home by decorating with colors that invoke a feeling of warmth, such as yellows, oranges, and reds–which all happen to be hues of the sun. Another color lacking in winter is the vibrant shades of green leaves from plants. Place indoor potted plants in strategic locations where you spend significant time in the winter, such as in the kitchen, by the computer, or next to your favorite easy chair. Another simple step to take inside your home is to allow the maximum amount of sunlight to enter your rooms. Pull back curtains so that none of them are covering any portion of the windows. You may also want to install a set of windows along a south-facing area of your home, and let the passive solar power of the sun help warm you and your home.
Winter’s Unique Opportunities
Not far from my home is a swamp that I always wanted to explore and see if beaver were living at the far end. It was too choked with brush to canoe and the water was too deep to wade through. Then one winter we had a month-long deep freeze with significant snow. That was my opportunity to explore this mysterious place. The swamp had a thick coat of ice, with snow on top, making for easy snowshoeing into its interior. I not only had a chance to discover that there was a beaver lodge deep in the swamp, but I also was rewarded for my efforts by getting a glimpse of two otters sliding and skimming along the ice until they disappeared into a stream. Winter truly does afford some great wildlife viewing because the leaves are off the deciduous trees, allowing you to see deeper into the woods. Just be cautious of ice, making sure it’s thick enough to walk on.
Plan Your Garden
I’ve planted large vegetable gardens for many years, but lately the garden has been more productive because I’ve taken the time during the winter to draw a layout of the garden. This allows me to incorporate crop rotation, and placement of species. For example, I want larger plants at the “back” of the garden (the northernmost end) so that they do not block out the sun from reaching the smaller plants.
The Joys of Firewood
There’s nothing as soothing as a crackling fire on a cold winter’s day or a wood stove radiating heat. And there’s a wonderful feeling of self-sufficiency when the wood you burn was gathered, split or cut yourself. The old saying that wood warms you twice, once in the cutting and again in the burning, is certainly true. And even if you don’t cut your own wood, you can always gather kindling from the forest floor that can be used to get your fire started. Some people have wood delivered in the form of logs and then they cut the wood to size and split it with a maul. It’s amazing how you can break the spell of confinement– cabin fever–just by going outside and swinging a maul to split firewood. After an hour of this activity you will have surely work off enough calories to head back inside for a cup of coffee or a piece of pie. And there’s nothing like a hot bath after working outside on a cold winter’s day!
Sometimes going outdoors in winter in hopes of getting sunshine doesn’t provide enough of the Vitamin D, particularly in periods of overcast days or in far northern latitudes where the angle of the sun is quite low. Consider a vitamin D supplement during the darkest three months of winter. Research indicates a vitamin D deficiency can result in diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and even depression.
Help Getting out of Bed
Does it seem like getting out of bed on a winter’s morning is more difficult than during the other seasons? You’re not alone. One simple step can go a long way to solving this problem. Install a timer on your home’s thermostat that increases the temperature about a half an hour before your alarm clock goes off in the morning. It sure is easier crawling out of bed into a warm house rather than a cold one. This same thermostat can then be programmed to reduce the heat when you leave for work, raise it when you return, and reduce it about an hour before bedtime. Stay warm, stay active, and try new things! You might just learn to love winter.