Preventing Winter Weight Gain
Many people tend to gain weight during the winter months. Some people joke that they are eating and sleeping more because they are getting ready to hibernate. But we do not get to crawl into a warm hiding place and sleep the fat away. In our sedentary culture, where more than half of all adults are overweight, factors that accelerate weight gain are a real concern. Those extra pounds acquired over the winter may stay on year after year, eventually contributing to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
People gain weight during the winter months for different reasons. If you have a tendency to gain weight during the winter, it's important for you to figure out what factors contribute to this tendency, and then plan accordingly. Simple changes in behavior often have enormous health benefits. Following are some ideas for preventing winter weight gain. As you read, decide which would be helpful for you.
Make a Holiday Survival Plan.
Holidays can mean less time to exercise, more treats, and extra alcohol and stress that trigger overeating. You couldn't find a better recipe for weight gain. If your weight gain tends to come during the holiday season, consider making a holiday survival plan.
First, come up with a plan for staying active. Think about factors that have made exercise during the holiday season difficult in the past: loneliness, travel, busyness, lack of childcare, etc. Try to come up with some creative solutions to these barriers, then schedule them into your calendar the same way you schedule parties, meetings and family gatherings.
Second, if the holidays create excess stress for you, think of ways to reduce it. Exercise is the best stress-reducer around, and stress reduction is one of the best reasons to stay active, no matter what the season may be. Also important are getting enough sleep, focusing on your priorities and eliminating low-priority activities if you are too busy. Make time for those activities that give the holidays meaning, and that provide pleasure and opportunities to be with people you enjoy.
Third, eat defensively. Include occasional small portions of holiday treats that you really love, but balance this by eating more prudently at other meals. Avoid munching and drinking just because "it's there." If you drink alcohol, keep your consumption reasonable.
Make Friends With Winter.
Winter can cause a decline in physical activity, as shorter days and inclement weather can limit exercise options. If winter weather creates exercise barriers for you, take a closer look at those barriers and come up with some creative solutions. If early darkness forces you off the streets, how about some indoor options? Check out fitness centers and community recreation programs in your area, and move your exercise program indoors.
Are you uncomfortable in cold weather? Buy some warmer clothes and learn how to dress for cold weather. If it snows where you live, learn a winter sport. Cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing are terrific calorie-burners.
Winter Doldrums? Get Into the Light.
Many people experience mild to moderate winter depression. Severe winter depression, known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is marked by depressed mood, sleeping more than usual, increased appetite, cravings for sweets and carbohydrates, and weight gain. If depression is a problem for you, talk to your healthcare provider. Providers may recommend some form of light therapy, which relieves winter depression in many people.
Don't forget that exercise can be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. People who experience winter depression can try combining exercise and light therapy by exercising outdoors when time and weather permit.
By Barbara A. Brehm, Ed.D.
Barbara A. Brehm, is an Associate Professor of Exercise and Sport Studies at Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
© Fitness Management Magazine. Used by permission.
This information and other information on this site is intended for general reference purposes only and is not intended to address specific medical conditions. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or a medical exam. Prior to participating in any exercise program or activity, you should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition.