Think now about staying fit during the winter

Carol Sponagle

If rain, clouds, sleet and snow make you go "blah," there's good reason.

According to medical research, the "winter blues," or depression associated with cold weather, occurs when daylight hours are shorter and people hunker down indoors. Symptoms associated with seasonal depression (known as seasonal affective disorder) include fatigue, lack of enjoyment, change in eating habits, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

Put simply, seasonal depression or SAD can be brought on by how your brain reacts to the decrease in sunlight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Roughly midway through autumn, the days feel shorter - and the amount of sunlight per day will continue decreasing until winter begins Dec. 21.

Plus, sooner or later, it's going to get cold.

One way to stay healthy and avoid winter blues and SAD is to get a sufficient amount of natural sunlight. Combining exercise with a healthy diet can also help.

When you exercise, your body produces a "feel-good" hormone called endorphin. Add this increased feeling of well-being to healthy foods to help stabilize blood sugar levels, elevate your mood and keep energy levels up.

If you crave cold-weather comfort foods, avoid junk food and give your body fuel by incorporating whole grains, fruits and vegetables in recipes.

Staying active

Noel Clevenger of Springfield, Ill., makes a point to keep her family healthy by getting plenty of outdoor exercise during the colder months of the year.

"My two boys (ages 9 and 7) are very active, so we try to do as much as we can outside," she says. "We walk the trails ... go to the playground, and when it snows, my husband takes them sledding."

"If we can't get outside," she says, "the boys play indoor basketball and we look for free activities, like the (museum) ... or story time at the library. We also make family challenges out of Wii fitness games."

It's important to keep your mind active during the winter months, Clevenger adds.

"We play lots of Scrabble."

Outdoor fun

You don't have to hide from cold weather. There are many ways to enjoy it - go for a family hike, strap on some skis, go sledding at the park or build a snowman.

But take precautions to keep your family warm and safe:

  • Wear shoes with traction or use slip-on grips.
  • Choose shoveled or plowed paths for walking and running.
  • Layer clothing to protect against wind and cold.
  • Look for waterproof and insulated boots and gloves to keep little fingers and toes warm.
  • Wear a hat and cover your face in extreme temperatures.
  • Always wear a helmet when engaging in winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, etc.
  • When sledding or skiing, check the area for water, ice, trees and obstacles that could lead to accidents and injury.

Indoor activities

  • Join a local health club. The YMCA has programs to keep the entire family fit in winter.
  • Take a stroll at the mall.
  • Strike out winter blahs at the local bowling alley.
  • Go roller skating or ice skating. 
  • Go to a museum. 
  • If you can't exercise, keep your mind active. Libraries offer children's areas and storytimes throughout the week.