Got the winter doldrums? That's not surprising -- it may have been more than a month since solstice, but winter still has its grip on us, and the days are still far too short. While your instincts may be to curl up on the couch with your favourite dessert and a good book, healthy eating and exercise are the best ways to beat the February blues. Try these 10 tips for staying healthy and happy this month.
1. Go for a lunchtime walk
It may be chilly outside, but there's nothing like fresh air, exercise and a bit of sunlight to brighten your mood -- even if said sunlight is being filtered by clouds and snow. Walking outdoors every lunch hour is a great idea for both your physical and mental health. Maybe you need a bit of quiet time to unwind, or perhaps you'd like to invite some coworkers along for a friendly unrelated-to-work chat. Either way, you'll be doing your body a favour. Having a hard time getting motivated? Try aiming for just 10 minutes to start with -- but don't be surprised if you're not ready to go back inside once the time's up.
2. Have a nap
If you're like most Canadians, you don't get enough sleep -- so if you're sleepy on a gloomy afternoon, go ahead and curl up on the couch for a snooze. Just avoid napping in the evening and make sure not to doze for too long, so you don't have trouble falling asleep at night.
3. Snack on chocolate
Good-quality chocolate (or even hot chocolate) is a fantastic treat -- in moderation, that is. For the best nutritional value, go for dark chocolate -- it's loaded with antioxidants -- and pick pieces with added nuts for protein and omega-3s. Just make sure to choose quality over quantity. Rather than having a whole bar of mediocre chocolate, go for a single piece from your favourite gourmet chocolatier, and savour every bite.
4. Pump some iron
You've probably seen article after article telling you why you should lift weights and keep your muscles toned. They're not wrong. Staying strong is great for your health -- and it helps you burn more calories, too. But don't think you have to hang out in the weight room at your gym to get results. You can easily work on strength training in the comfort of your own home, either while taking breaks from other activities or during a focused weight-training session. Try doing biceps curls during the commercials of your favourite TV show, or squats while you're brushing your teeth.
5. Buy yourself a pick-me-up
Having a rough day? There's no reason you shouldn't reward yourself for making it through. But if your usual mood-brightener is calorie-rich junk food, think about replacing it with something that will make you feel better without the post-binge guilt, whether it's a soothing soak in the tub, a new bottle of nail polish or a fresh copy of your favourite magazine.
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6. Eat more fruit
Want an quick way to fight heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and obesity? It's easy -- eat more plant foods, including the recommended five to 10 daily servings of fruit and vegetables. For a simple way to increase your intake, snack on fruit a couple of times a day. To make eating fruit less of a chore, try bringing precut portions with you to work -- apple slices or cut-up grapefruit, for example. Or pack a week's worth of bananas with you on Mondays for easy-to-grab afternoon hunger busters.
7. Get a massage
There's nothing like a good massage to relieve both physical and mental stress. It's also great for your health; according to the Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance, massage therapy will help boost your immune system and relieve symptoms of everything from arthritis and asthma to repetitive strain and sports injuries. A bonus? Many extended medical plans cover regular massages -- just make sure to check whether you need a doctor's note to qualify.
8. Wash your hands
One of the easiest ways to prevent spreading colds and flu is to keep your hands clean by washing them regularly. Make sure to use good technique with the following tips from The Flu Pandemic and You by Vincent Lam, MD and Colin Lee, MD:
• Wet your hands and apply enough soap to create a lather.
• Rub and scrub your hands together for at least 15 seconds, ensuring that your entire hand is covered with soap.
• Rinse your hands well, and dry with a disposable towel.
They also suggest using the towel to open the door of the washroom on your way out, and avoiding the use of overly hot water, as it will irritate your skin.
9. Cut back on salt
Most of us eat more salt than we need, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (www.heartandstroke.ca), and excess salt can help raise blood pressure in people who are "salt sensitive." Since it's so difficult to tell whether an individual is salt sensitive -- and since there's no question the majority of North Americans consume far more salt than the body needs -- it recommends limiting your salt intake by avoiding packaged and processed foods (including salty snack foods such as potato chips and pretzels) and salt-preserved foods such as bacon, ham and luncheon meat. If you're a salt lover, try cutting back gradually, and increasing your use of other flavourings such as fresh and dried herbs, onions and garlic and chili peppers at the same time.
10. Take care of your breasts
One in nine Canadian women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, according to Health Canada. One step you can take toward fighting the disease is performing a monthly breast self-examination -- just create the habit, and you'll stop thinking of it as a chore. Other steps you can take to minimize your risk include losing excess weight (especially if you're postmenopausal), quitting smoking, being physically active and lowering your intake of alcohol.
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