Change of Season Wellness Impact
Many daily, weekly and annual variables impact on our lifestyles for the short and long term. Our home life, work life and social lives undergo frequent, and sometimes daily, interruptions in routine. Keeping to a “health and fitness” routine when your life is in flux can be stressful… but is the stress of staying healthy due to the current circumstances or to your mindset or to something else altogether? I could really go off in many different directions and processes with this topic; but for now, I want to address a little known or recognized problem of ‘how seasonal changes impact on our bodies’.
In the case of Change of Season Impact – there are certain organic or chemical changes in the body that we cannot control; however, we can alleviate the end result once we recognize the symptoms and act accordingly.
Nature has a marvelous way of taking care of every species throughout the seasons. Have you ever considered how some animals hibernate during the colder months or travel great distances to a warmer climate? There are some animals and wildlife that actually thrive better and reproduce only during the colder months? Dietary requirements change with the seasons as well. This can be due to the availability of foods and the types of food the body will require during the season. Note that age and ongoing uncontrolled medical issues will make a person experience seasonal chemical changes to a greater degree. Over the millions of years of evolution, nature has provided the adaptation necessary, both externally and internally, for survival.
Most humans are no longer as strongly guided by the seasons as we once were. We no longer have to forage for food. We have the ability to access any food at any time of the year via import and export. We no longer have to carry extra weight to help us through the winter when there is less food to keep the body warm and functioning. This has good and bad implications for us. Just as the animal kingdom is ruled by their organic changes, we humans still have all those chemical alterations happening within us.
We have two major chemical changes during the year – at winter and at summer. The spring and autumn are when these changes start to occur. I am sure that if you take the time you will recognize that your mood, attitude and energy levels vary greatly; as will your food choices, activities and sleep patterns. SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder primarily occurs during the winter months. Once known as the winter crazies, this disorder can be now be treated with diet, light therapy, lifestyle changes and medication. I use the above illustration so you can understand that everyone, to a lesser or greater degree, is impacted by Seasonal Change. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is another disorder which can be triggered by the season.
Just like the ‘animals’, humans want to eat more and do less or do more and eat less at different times. However, with humans, we still have to go to school, work, be parents, or be responsible for and to others. We want to play, socialize and take care of our life’s business every day. We no longer have the luxury of semi-hibernation or the winter crazies. These natural seasonal changes can be combated with awareness, education and diligence. It is – in the end – up to us!
So we now know that seasonal chemical (hormonal) changes are just a part of life. And we know there is no quick pill to stop it. So what do we do? We trick the body into thinking we are in control; thereby reducing the chemical influence of the change. Some of these steps are quite easy… like dressing in layers so that you are able to keep the body temperature more stable – NOT TOO HOT OR TOO COOL.
Other lifestyle changes require more planning and commitment. For example, your sleep requirements are increased in winter. This is naturally due to the shorter days. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark and return in the dark. So, get more rest! Add an hour to your winter nights’ sleep but get up at the same time every day. On the weekends, if you have the luxury of a sleep in, don’t sleep more than an extra hour in the mornings. Put your lights on a timer to come on for 30 minutes before you wake. SAD sufferers use special daylight lamps that simulate dawn but it is not necessary for those that don’t suffer from the disorder.
Many of us just don’t have the luxury of actually spending much time in the winter sunshine during our work week. If possible – plan to have your breaks outside. Pack your lunch and have a picnic with friends on a park bench. No park nearby? Go for a walk for 30 minutes. Get out in the sun on your off days as much as you can. The housework will wait for you. Vitamin D from the sun is better than any pill – plus your mood will improve. Ever heard the term – Stir crazy? Constantly being shut up indoors will make one moody, less creative and less social. Who wants to add that to their life?
ME TIME. It is not a selfish thing to do at all, but it can be the most difficult to arrange for some people. Just 30 minutes a day minimum, to enjoy whatever you want to do with that special time is crucial to your wellbeing. We are so busy juggling family, work, and the multitude of other things that pop into our lives each day that we forget to take care of ourselves. Meditate, exercise, take a nap, read, draw, crochet, paint, take a bath, cook, call a friend, watch a show, or plan a holiday. The choice of what to do is yours because this is YOUR time. Maybe it is before the rush of the day starts, or it could be that afternoon break before you pick up the kids. For me, it is when everyone else is finally in bed, the house is quiet, it’s too late for anyone to call, and my husband knows this is my rejuvenate time. I cherish it, I guard it and I get testy if I don’t have it! Try out Me Time – You’ll Love It!
Food intake choice – is probably the biggest change you will experience. Our bodies naturally want more food – to get us through the winter. It is critical that we fuel our bodies well but appropriately. Think about what foods you typically crave in the winter? How are your portions… usually larger right? Most people eat more and drink less. And that would be non-alcoholic drinks by the way! I frequently hear from clients that in winter they can’t seem to fill up. They are constantly nibbling, even when they aren’t hungry.
We can continue to eat healthy, keep portions under control, maintain or even lose weight and reduce the cravings that come with seasonal changes. In many parts of the world there are dramatic differences in meal choices during the winter and summer months. The term comfort food comes to mind for the winter. Are you aware that chocolate is truly a food that has a direct chemical influence in the brain? It does actually cause a feel good sensation when taken in small amounts. Taken in excess and you will only feel SICK.
For most of us comfort food means a stomach filling, usually hot, meal. There is no reason for us to gorge on meals. If we continue to eat every three to four hours, ingest a bit more protein than carbohydrates or have more low GI carbs our satisfaction level will be maintained and so will our waistline. Enjoy the “winter dishes” but USE PORTION CONTROL. Your mind is playing tricks on your tummy by wanting you to eat more. Your stomach will still be as full as it was in the summer when you were satisfied with the same amount of food. Absolutely enjoy more hot foods like soups and baked meals. In the summer you may have had your baked dinner on Sundays only. In the winter you want the “big” meals daily. The bigger meal may take more time to make…but the food intake doesn’t have to go along with it.
Fluid intake is a challenge for some. More coffees and hot chocolates are consumed during the winter… and that’s OK, if you are having sugar free or eliminating sugar and on Skim or Lite Milk. Have more hot fluids, since cold fluids are generally less enticing and it continues to be important that you keep your fluid intake up. Another way to increase fluids is to use broth as a part of a snack or soups as part of your lunch or dinner. Have hot water with lemon or with other fruit flavours. Tea is another great source of fluid intake…try going herbal or try out a selection of the new flavors developed each year. Proper fluid balance will reduce cravings.
Dress for the weather by layering your clothes. Peel off if you’re warm and add on if you’re feeling a chill. As the weather gets cooler our bodies will naturally want ‘warming up’ and hot foods are consumed more spontaneously.
Journal your day, food intake, exercise, energy levels and moods to see how you track during the autumn…it is very enlightening and can be a savior to your waistline.
Exercise requirements seem to change with the seasons. Our winter bodies typically want to slow down, but it is not necessary to live that way. Do yourself a big favor and get a minimum of 30 minutes per day of exercise. Resistance exercise not only improves your strength and toning, but it keeps your heart rate at a cardio level. Commit yourself to every other day resistance training and cardio on the alternate days. You will burn more calories, improve your metabolism and decrease the chemical seasonal response in your body. Try out some new exercise classes and do some deep breathing exercises several times a day.
A single change alone in one aspect of the organic issues around seasonal change is not likely to make much of a difference. You must incorporate all of the above to keep yourself in balance with your health and fitness. There really is NO excuse for the winter blues that last longer than a day. Now when it comes to Spring Fever….. well that is another article.
Originally written June 2010 by Connie Gersteling