Photo by Jackie Krage of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.
The fall season is fast upon us, and it happens to be my favorite time of year. Cool, crisp temperatures, the smell of wood burning in outdoor fireplaces, apple picking, pumpkin picking, the sounds of Friday night high school football games and other activities that bring back fond memories.
Fall also brings with it the reminder that winter is right around the corner. Like most people, I am hoping for a mild winter that won’t cause all of us to hibernate for six months only to emerge when we hear the sounds of spring.
The change to fall and winter weather can create challenges for each of us. For some, it is the lack of sunlight that is troublesome. For others, it is cold temperatures, deep snow and the need to be inside more.
Now is the best time to start thinking about what strategies you can put into place to stay healthy through the winter months ahead.
For those who are outdoor enthusiasts in the warmer months but don’t like the cold weather, perhaps you can transition some of your outdoor activities to the indoors, or try something new. Mall walking is a favorite of many people who want to continue to exercise. Perhaps taking some classes in yoga, kettlebells or Pilates is more your style.
For those who are a little more adventurous, consider trying indoor rock climbing. Whatever your choice, the most important thing to consider is: What can you do to keep your body moving and to stay off the couch?
But winter health isn’t just about finding ways to be physically active; It’s also about mental health. The weather can take its toll on people, keeping them isolated and disconnected.
We often think we get depressed because of the lack of sunlight. Perhaps we should consider that isolation may be as much of a contributor to our sadness or depression as the lack of sunlight. We can’t change the weather that we live in unless we move somewhere else. We can however find ways to stay engaged in the world and with people. Set up a book club, poker group, find a TV show you love and gather a group to watch it.
I would encourage each of you to start creating a plan now for the winter months ahead. Consider ways you can stay physically active and socially engaged. Please share your ideas here. I would love to hear them and others might benefit from them as well.
If you have a strong opinion about winter, you are not alone.
Love it or hate it, a Minnesota winter is always there to remind us of its presence. Many of us struggle with the season’s shorter days and the challenges of plunging temperatures, snow or ice.
For some, staying healthy seems more difficult in the winter months. The annual ritual of a flu shot reminds of us what’s next: more time indoors and more chances to catch the latest cold, cough or flu. Others struggle with the darkness and expectations of the holidays. For some, seasonal affective disorder brings a constant struggle of more than just the winter blues.
“Around the holiday season many of us set high expectations for what we think we should and need to do,” said Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, a cardiologist and vice president of Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. “These expectations are challenging for many of us, but there are ways to remain active and embrace the winter season. There is beauty in the change of seasons, and winter is a time for us to reflect upon and creatively enjoy what is beautiful about our region.”
Eight ideas to help you embrace winter
1. Head outdoors. Embrace the change of seasons. If you dress appropriately, the cold shouldn’t stop you from enjoying time outside in the crisp, cool air. As a physician scientist with the National Institutes of Health, Baechler spent time studying preventive health initiatives in Finland – a country with long, cold and snowy winters. She observed people fully embracing the outdoors during the winter, bundled up and running, walking, socializing and even biking year-round.
2. Make activity part of your holiday rituals. Spend time after a traditional holiday meal doing something active as a group. Going for a short walk or spending time outdoors playing a game is a great way to embrace the change of seasons and create a new tradition.
3. Be mindful. Winter gives us an opportunity to reflect, listen to our bodies and slow down. Be mindful that if you are moving less during the season, you should eat a little less.
4. Think like a kid. Most kids are excited by the first snowfall. Part of the mind, body and spirit approach to enjoying what is beautiful about winter is to enjoy and appreciate the changing landscape.
5. Think small rewards. If you get outdoors and enjoy a winter activity such as walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ice skating, take some time to reward yourself with a cup of hot tea or some time in front of a fireplace. Taking time for reflection is also a great personal gift.
6. Get creative. There are many options for staying active and fit during the winter. Find an indoor place to walk such as a local mall or sports center. Many schools or community recreation centers offer indoor swimming. Or, try something new such as warm yoga or a community education class.
7. Back to the basics. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays what people remember most is the time spent with others. Most people put too much pressure on themselves to find the perfect gift, to prepare the perfect meal, when what matters most is time spent with others.
8. Think three. Remind yourself of three things you are grateful for each day. Gratitude helps you stay in the moment and be present.
Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute. Make an appointment with her by calling 612-863-3333, or learn about classes offered by the Penny George Institute.