Winter is a time packed with celebration, with food galore on Christmas Day and drinks aplenty on New Year’s Eve. It’s also a time when many find it to be too cold to spend much time outside, leading to long nights sat on the sofa, huddled close to the radiator or fireplace. For these reasons, winter can also be seen as the season most responsible for weight gain and ill health – but is there anything we can do to protect ourselves against this?
In this article, we’ll be exploring some key tips you can utilise to lose weight and avoid weight gain over the winter period. We’ll examine the best ways to exercise when the weather is cold, before taking a look at the best winter foods for weight control and a healthy outlook. Enjoy!
Perhaps the first and largest reason why people avoid exercising in the winter is due to the cold. It’s hard to motivate yourself for a morning jog in sub-zero temperatures! However, many may not realise that the cold associated with an outside jog may actually improve your exercise gains.
One study found that the cold exposure that causes shivering could help to convert white fat cells into brown fat cells; brown fat cells are much more helpful than white fat cells, as they can help us to burn more energy. Those worried about the discomfort of a winter-time jog should also know that brown fat cells are more effective than their white fat cell counterparts at protecting against the cold. [Source]
Exercise also releases endorphins, happy hormones that can provide a mood boost. This is particularly beneficial during the darker winter months, when you can get Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the winter blues. Increased fitness can also help to raise your energy levels and counteract fatigue, which is one of the symptoms of SAD. [Source]
It is possible that regular exercise can strengthen the immune system, making it easier for your body to fight off colds and flu. The evidence behind this is limited, but studies have found that exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells, which fight bacteria in the bloodstream. [Source]
Walking on snow burns more calories and offers more resistance than walking on a firm surface like tarmac. The deeper the snow, the harder it is to walk through, and the more your muscles have to work, helping to improve your fitness with every step.
The cold of winter can also help us to burn fat even whilst resting. As we are warm-blooded, our bodies regulate our temperature to 37 degrees Celsius. There is one theory that by putting yourself in a cold environment, your body needs to put in more effort to stay at 37 degrees, and so burns more calories (this is called Cold Induced Thermogenesis). There are numerous ways that you could make the most of this process; turning down the thermostat in your home slightly and sleeping with the window open are two options. Going for a run, jog, or even a long walk outside in winter will theoretically burn more calories than the same amount of exercise in a heated room.
Doing a proper warm-up is an essential part of any workout, but it is even more important in the winter months. Warming up literally helps your muscles warm up and loosen, helping to protect against muscle tightness and soreness, and even sprains and injuries. Exercising without warming up in cold weather can also negatively affect your performance during exercise.
Remember to be cautious whilst running on icy or snowy grounds. Falling or slipping could leave you with a sprain or a more serious injury, stopping your exercise regime in its tracks. [Source]
If going for a jog or a run outside in the cold does not sound appealing, there are lots of other exercise options available.
Avoid the cold weather and exercise indoors or at a gym or leisure centre. Some gyms offer discounts or deals in the winter, as November and December are some of their quietest months. There are lots of different exercise classes that you could try out as well, such as pilates, yoga, boxercise, or jujitsu. For anyone who wants to save some money, or if you live too far from a gym, consider trying the hundreds of different workouts that can be done at home, without the need for equipment. One of our favourite websites is darebee.com, a free resource that offers hundreds of exercises programs suitable for different fitness levels and goals.
Christmas can often be a time of culinary excess, and there can be the temptation to overindulge throughout the winter period, but a few tweaks can help to prevent weight gain, or even have you losing weight through the winter.
Salads might be the go-to diet food of summer, but their freshness and light taste are far less appealing in winter, when all you want is warming comfort food. Opt instead for seasonal winter vegetables, which is hearty, nutritious and at its cheapest during winter. Winter vegetables include sweet potatoes, winter squashes and pumpkins, onions, carrots, and parsnips. These all taste great either roasted or made into soup, and provide a long list of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, whilst still having a low-calorie content. Hearty vegetable-based soups make a great diet food, with studies suggesting that people who eat soup as a starter will eat fewer calories over the course of the entire meal. [Source]
Kale, collard greens, cabbage, and other green leafy vegetables are also in season; their high fibre content helps to suppress the appetite and keep your digestive system moving, as well as help to lower cholesterol levels.
On Christmas Day itself, try to choose just one pudding. With a slice of Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, a Yule log, a box of chocolates being passed around the living room, and a cheeky chocolate off the tree, the calories soon add up. Buying fewer dessert choices means less calories, fewer leftovers that need eating in the days after Christmas, and a slimmer waistline for New Year.
Empty calories from alcohol also make up a large chunk of the extra calories we typically consume over the Christmas period; mulled wine, beer, eggnog, and baileys are all packed with sugar and calories. At your next Christmas party, try swapping these heavy drinks for lighter options. Slimline tonic and soda water are good options for low-calorie mixers, which can dramatically reduce the calorific value of each drink.
Overall, try to avoid ridiculous excess over the holiday period, but don’t starve yourself either. If you indulge in some sweet treats, don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t use it as an excuse to quit eating sensibly altogether.
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