Over the River and Through the Woods = A Good Winter Workout

It’s the time of year when schedules are full of holiday parties and meals, and opportunities for food-and-alcohol-centered merriment abound. It’s also the time when the average adult packs on a sneaky, often unnoticed, pound or two that has a high chance of lingering on your waistline long after the calendar changes over. This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to make time for fitness.

You may already know the benefits of regular physical activity such as a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It can also improve your ability to perform daily tasks, keep you mentally sharp, and help you avoid injuries. Winter fitness is especially beneficial because it helps with health concerns specific to cold weather:

It boosts immunity. During cold and flu season, exercise can help you dodge the seasonal sniffles. Regular activity appears to boost the immune system, making it easier for your body to handle wintertime germs. Flu vaccination and frequent hand-washing also help keep you healthy.

It staves off holiday spread. Weight gain during the holidays can contribute to the 20–30 pounds that most Americans gain during adulthood. Exercise can help you balance the number of calories that you eat with the number of calories you burn, so you can enjoy some treats without the negative consequences.

It improves your mood. The shorter days of fall and winter cause some women to experience seasonal affective disorder, a condition marked by symptoms such as tiredness, irritability, cravings for complex carbohydrates (such as bread and pasta), and depression. For others, a hard day at work or holiday visits with family and friends can be very stressful. Exercise is one of the best natural antidepressants around and can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, lower levels of stress hormones, and boost levels of feel-good hormones.

ACOG recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (eg, brisk walking or bicycling) on most days of the week to lower your risk of chronic disease, 60 minutes on most days of the week to maintain weight, and at least 60 to 90 minutes a day to lose weight. If you can’t get a full workout in every day, try going for a walk after meals, raking leaves, vacuuming, or taking the stairs. Or winterize your workout with cold weather activities such as ice skating, snow shoveling, or skiing. Any physical activity helps, so fight your inner couch potato this winter and get moving.

Don’t Invite Stress Home for the Holidays

The holidays are upon us. Are you joyous and bright? Or would “a heaping pile of stress” be a more accurate description? If you answered the latter, you’re not alone. The frenzy of the holiday season can amplify the everyday stressors we face, such as work, traffic, family obligations, being a caregiver, and the economy.

Stress is your body’s natural response to demand or pressure. While periodic stress is normal and can be good for you—helping you to act quickly, overcome challenges, and boost your immunity—ongoing stress can lead to a number of health problems.

Stress-related spikes in blood pressure may be damaging to blood vessels if they occur too often and can lead to long-term high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Ongoing stress has also been linked to lowered immunity and physical, mental, or emotional symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, stomach problems, anxiety, depression, irritability, crying spells, forgetfulness, poor concentration, and low productivity.

The way you handle the inevitable holiday and everyday stressors can make all the difference in your overall health. These helpful tips from National Foundation for Cancer Research may be a good place to start:

  •  Plan ahead. Stress can build up if you procrastinate your “To Do List.” Try to accomplish small tasks each day leading up to the holiday. Buying gifts, decorating, and cooking can be much more stressful if done last-minute.
  • Know your limits. Being overwhelmed with events during the holiday season can impede your daily responsibilities. Be sure to practice saying “no” and avoid overcommitting. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be sure to get a healthy amount of rest.
  • Try to eat nutritious foods and limit sweets during the holiday season. As tempting as it may be, consuming large amounts of unhealthy foods can contribute to decreased energy levels, not to mention feelings of guilt. Try to choose alternative options like whole grains, fruits and vegetables filled with cancer-fighting antioxidants, and lean meats. Still enjoy desserts (it is the holidays, after all), but keep it in moderation.
  • Let things go. Nothing’s going to be perfect. Relax and enjoy time with family, even if a pie burns or someone is disappointed with his (or her) gift. Reconcile the situation, move on, and embrace the holiday cheer!
  • Exercise. Exercise is not only a great way to stay fit and reduce your risk of getting cancer, but it increases your endorphin levels and helps keep you stress-free.

Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and easy holiday season!

How We Can Help Prevent Suicide

Nearly 40,000 Americans—one person every 15 minutes—committed suicide in 2009. This is the highest rate recorded in 15 years and one that continues to increase. And contrary to popular belief, teens aren’t the only age group at risk. The highest rate of suicide among women occurs between the ages of 25 and 64. Although more men commit suicide each year, women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men.

This week, the US surgeon general announced a new plan to battle suicides nationwide, with the goal of saving 20,000 lives over the next five years. The plan includes $55 million in grants for state and community prevention programs. Individuals can also play a big part in reducing suicide. Friends, family, and coworkers may have an opportunity to spot a problem, provide support, and get their loved one the help they need.

Would you recognize the warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide? They may include:

  • Talking about killing or harming themselves
  • Trying to access guns, pills, or other items to inflict self-harm
  • Expressing hopelessness or feeling that they have nothing to live for
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Drastically changing some behaviors
  • Increasing drug or alcohol use
  • Showing rage or talking about revenge

Suicide is a tragedy that affects women of all races and ages, their friends, families, and communities. If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress, don’t brush it off. Tune in, take it seriously, and seek help as soon as possible.

To find suicide support and resources, visit the National Suicide Prevention Help Line website or call 800-273-TALK (8255).