December can be hazardous to your health in more ways than one. With daylight at its annual low, curling up on the couch is far more appealing than going to the gym, and the ubiquity of holiday treats makes sticking to a healthy eating plan more of a challenge than ever. But don't despair -- with a bit of motivation and planning, you can make it through December healthier than ever. Here are 10 simple tips for inspiration.
1. Have a snowball fight with your kids
There's something about the first snowfalls of the season that make even the most winterphobic among us want to frolic outdoors. Make the most of that sentiment by playing in the snow with your kids. Throw snowballs, make snow angels or build your own Frosty. The exercise and fresh air will do you all good, and the fun of acting like a kid will help relieve your holiday stress.
2. Eat more fibre
Fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet -- it promotes good digestion, can help regulate blood sugar and is thought to lower one's risk of heart disease and cancer. Health Canada recommends 20 to 35 grams per day for adults. Try to get your fibre from food sources rather than supplements, as foods that are high in fibre tend to be plant foods that are also high in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. As a general guide, aim for lots of fruits and vegetables and go for brown over white, or whole grains over refined grains -- whole wheat pasta, for instance, contains more than twice the fibre of white pasta.
3. Help someone in need
Not only is altruism good for the soul, if you choose the right project, it can help relieve stress and even boost your level of activity. Whether it's volunteering for a charitable organization or shovelling snow for an elderly neighbour, help someone out this holiday season. Even better, get the whole family involved and make it a group project -- there's no better lesson to teach your kids than how to give.
4. Drink more water
We all know how important hydration is for our health, but when it's cold outside, it's easy to miss out on your eight glasses a day. If you have trouble making sure you're getting enough H2O, plan ahead. Try filling a pitcher of water in the morning that must be empty by evening, or put a sticky note on your monitor at work with boxes you can check off every time you finish a glass. Too chilly to drink water? Go for green or herbal tea instead.
5. Take a yoga class
Yoga devotees swear by this ancient practice for its ability to increase strength, flexibility and balance and decrease stress. Who could ask for more? If you've never done yoga, there's no better time to start than now. Fallen off the wagon? Try a new teacher, studio or style to increase your motivation.
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6. Eat an apple a day
While an apple a day probably won't keep the doctor away forever, it's certainly a good place to start. A medium apple contains about three grams of fibre (that's a tenth of your daily needs) and 10 per cent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, plus potassium, phytochemicals and antioxidants. For a change, snack on unsweetened applesauce instead.
7. Plan ahead for snacks
No sooner have we finally finished the leftover Halloween candy (and sworn to be good) than the Christmas goodies begin to appear. And nothing makes chocolates and gingerbread look more appetizing than that lethal combination of midafternoon sleepiness and hunger. To help avoid the lure of sugary treats, make sure to stock up on healthy snacks you can reach for when cravings strike. Good options include fruit, low-fat cheese such as mozzarella, trail mix (go for raw blends rather than those containing hydrogenated oils) and raw veggies.
8. Cut the pop
If you're looking for an easy way to take in more calories, pop's the answer. Not only do daily pop drinkers gain more weight than those who indulge only occasionally, but they have higher rates of diabetes. Choosing diet doesn't help, either; in fact, people who go for diet drinks have been shown to gain more weight than those who pick the sugary option. The best choice for your health? Cut it out altogether, except for the odd treat. For a similar but much healthier beverage, try a blend of fruit juice and sparkling water. And don't forget about the caffeine content of most sodas -- if your habit is more than a few a day, sub in some tea to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
9. Strengthen your abs and core
Developing abs of steel and a strong core will help your balance, improve your posture and reduce your risk of lower back injury -- and a flatter stomach never hurt anyone, either. If you're unsure about how to start, consider springing for a training session at a gym, where you can get a professional to design a program best suited for your needs.
10. Make your resolution achievable
New Year's resolutions -- a good idea in theory, but in practice, they're all too often quickly discarded. To make your resolution stick, choose it wisely. Rather than a vague idea to "get more exercise" or "save more money," come up with something specific. Concerned about your eating habits? Resolve to eat a healthy breakfast every day, and plan how you're going to do it. Want to exercise more? Sign up for a class in something you've always wanted to do -- try martial arts or dance, or join a team sports league. Pick something achievable, and you may just be ready for a second resolution come spring.
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