10 ways to a healthy (and sound) winter

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Out and Healthy with Steven Russell on right
Out and Healthy with Steven Russell on right

Out and Healthy

Bears hibernate. Hibernation, according to dictionary.com, is “to spend the winter in close quarters in a dormant condition, as bears and certain other animals.” That sounds like winter around my house. The dormant condition could be helpful, especially for my budget. However, if I keep eating, unlike my ursine friends, I don’t think my health will benefit. Hibernation keeps bears alive when food is scarce. Around my house, even in winter, food is far from scarce. There are things we can do to counterbalance this hibernation tendency, and maybe even keep a few pounds off in the meantime.

Steven Russell on right
Out and Healthy with Steven Russell on right

I don’t know if humans have the same instinct to hibernate in the winter, but I think we mimic the animals that do. As the cold weather approaches, we may have some instinctual tendency to hoard food, like squirrels gathering nuts, and to become dormant, like bears hibernating. Our bodies seem to want to add a few pounds to help us survive the winter. It seems easier to stay at home on the couch than it is to use the gym membership. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to prepare for and weather the winter inactivity.

Here are 10 easy things we can do right now and throughout the coming months to stay active and healthy, mentally and physically as the urge to hibernate takes over. Pick one, just to start.

1. Breathe
Take long, deep, relaxing breaths for a minute or so. Pay attention to the way your body moves in order to breathe. Notice the sounds you make inhaling and exhaling. Do this every hour or so, or whenever you think of it. Set a reminder to do it a few times throughout the day. Then do it again when you get into bed.

2. Move
Park your car a few rows farther away from the building than the closest available spot. Take the long way. Take the stairs. Walk the dog an extra time. Walk down a dead-end street. Walk around the neighborhood. Avoid the drive-through. Go to the gym. Take that free yoga class at the library. Get a massage.

Out and Healthy with Steven Russell on left
Out and Healthy with Steven Russell on left

3. Eat Something New
Try something you’ve never had before. Use a new spice. Go vegetarian for a day. Eat something your healthy friend is eating. Make a meal using only fresh ingredients; no cans, or packages. Eat a meal with no TV, no phone.

4. Read
Read an article in that health magazine that hospitals send around. Read the local paper. Re-read your favorite book. Read the ingredients on the next package of food you open. Read the liner notes on that vinyl record you have. Stop the car and read the next historical marker you pass.

5. Clean Up
Clean up one small part of your yard. Straighten up one cabinet. Organize your sock drawer. Compost and replace old spices and expired food. When you take a walk, take along an empty bag and pick up a few pieces of litter. Groom your facial hair.

6. Give Away
Recycle or take to the thrift store clothing you haven’t worn in a year. Tip the garbage collectors. Make something delicious to eat and take some to your co-workers, or to a neighbor for no reason. Just say, “I thought you’d like to taste this,” and walk away.

7. Give Up
Nothing big. Skip coffee one day and explore a new kind of tea. Try to go one day without eating refined sugar. Eat a dish without adding salt. Say, “I’ll just have water,” and notice people’s reaction. Eat a vegan meal. Give up judgement for just one statement.

8. Volunteer
Call a local food bank and ask how you can help. Volunteer for a local hospice, or soup kitchen, or the foster care system, or Habitat for Humanity, or Big Brothers Big Sisters. Join a local chorus or band. Most have non-performing members, too.

Out and Healthy with Steven Russell on left
Out and Healthy with Steven Russell on left

9. Build Up
Go a day without saying anything nasty, even to yourself. Give one compliment every day. Let someone into your lane. Let someone in front of you in the check out aisle. Pay for lunch. Call a relative. Wish happiness for someone you can’t stand. Forgive a friend. Forgive yourself.

10. Meditate
Spend ten minutes alone with yourself with no phone, no computer, no TV. Sit in a chair or on the floor and close your eyes. Count up to 100 breaths. Each time you get distracted and lose count, start over. Or try to inhale for eight counts and exhale for eight counts. Or maybe ten. Or maybe twelve. Try to notice thoughts without following them. Hum and listen to the sound, and feel the vibrations.

Try one of these things. See what happens. The next day, try two. We can honor the approaching season, and try to understand our inclination to become less active in the winter. We can also prepare for it, like the squirrels hiding nuts. But these nuts are prizes, not to eat, but to shepherd us into a healthy winter, and into becoming sound.