It can be hard getting back into the swing of things in September, and often the healthy habits you cultivated over the summer are the first things to go. Here are our top five healthy habits that are easiest to maintain in summer, but well worth the effort 12 months a year!
Everything health-related just seems so much easier in the summer when the sun is shining, local produce is in season, and you have boundless energy. But that’s no reason to throw your good habits out the (now closed) window!
The greatest seasonal increase in body weight starts in the fall (1), and is the most rapid between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (2). Blood sugar and cholesterol levels are also highest in colder months, particularly in women and those with chronic diseases like diabetes (1,3). All is not lost though! Just focus on keeping up some of the great habits you worked on this summer…
1. Keep moving.
We are not denying that being able to enjoy the outdoors in beautiful spring and summer weather is a boon for physical activity. In fact, the greatest decrease in vigorous physical activity occurs in the period from summer to fall (1) and sedentary behaviour continues to rise before peaking in the winter (4). We suggest enjoying the warmer fall weather while it lasts (a brisk after-dinner walk while the sun sets, anyone?) and starting some fun AND physical cold-weather activities.
2. Try seasonal veggies and fruit.
Nothing beats fresh local produce and the abundance of veggies and fruit that characterize summer. But keeping your veggie and fruit intake high all year long is great for your waistline and risk of chronic disease. While pickins’ are a bit slimmer heading into October, there are still plenty of in-season options.
3. Watch your portion sizes.
Looks like your cold-weather cravings for comfort food could be a result of your environment AND biology. It’s no great surprise that food intake is highest in the coldest months of the year, but did you know that your levels of stress hormones fluctuate with the seasons too? There is significant seasonal effect (likely via day-length) on circulating levels of glucocorticoids (like cortisol), which are lowest during the spring and summer, peaking in the fall and winter (5). How does this affect food intake? The term “stress-eating” comes to mind! Psychological stress and high levels of hormones like cortisol are linked to higher belly fat and the development of metabolic syndrome.
Can you beat your seasonal biology? Absolutely! In an intervention teaching mindfulness and meditation, women with improved stress levels showed lower cortisol levels and reduced waist size (6). Here are some tips on Ending the Mindless Munchies from dietitian Casey Berglund. For those times when you submit to cravings, try new and improved comfort food recipes like our Mac ‘n’ Cheese, or great ideas from Cooking Light and Eating Well.
4. Stay hydrated.
Dehydration is much more common in the summer due to heat and perspiration, but fluid loss is high in both hot and cold temperature. That foggy breath when it’s cold out? Fluid loss! And baseline hydration is pretty poor for most people. In an analysis of the 2007 Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, Goodman et al. (7) found that over 40% of adults drink less than 3 cups of water per day, with 7% of adults not drinking ANY water. Surely, we can do better! Take a look at your urine to check your status; you’re going for “pale lemonade”. Water is your best choice – check out Drink Up! for some tips on spicing up your agua.
Drinking more water can be a great weight maintenance strategy too. In a weight loss intervention trial involving diet and exercise self-monitoring (weight, step count, and veggie/fruit intake), including increased water intake in the intervention proved the most successful (8). Participants were instructed to consume 2 cups (16 fl oz) of water before each main meal – it takes up valuable real estate in your stomach!
5. Get out of bed!
This one really hits home – it’s so cozy under the covers! In a recent UK study, total sleep time did not vary significantly by season BUT time in bed did. Despite not actually getting more sleep, time in bed was significantly higher in the fall and winter. While we are all for getting adequate sleep (at least 6 hours per night), lazing around in bed isn’t quite what we mean.
In 30 minutes a 150 lbs woman burns approximately 34 calories while lying down, 85 calories doing gentle stretching, and 112 calories walking at a moderate pace. So set that alarm and lay off the snooze button!
- Lloyd L, Miller B. The impact of seasonality on changes in body weight and physical activity in Mexican-American women. Women Health 2013; 53:262-81.Bardini G, et al. Lipids seasonal variability in type 2 diabetes. Metabolism 2012; 61: 1674-7.
- Stevenson JL, et al. Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. Eur J Clin Nutr 2013; 67:944-9.
- Bardini G, et al. Lipids seasonal variability in type 2 diabetes. Metabolism 2012; 61: 1674-7.
- O’Connell SE, et al. Seasonal variation in physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep in a sample of UK adults. Ann Hum Biol 2013; [epub ahead of print].
- Cahill S, et al. Circannual changes in stress and feeding hormones and their effect on food-seeking behaviors. Front Neurosci 2013; [epub ahead of print].
- Daubenmier J, et al. Mindfulness intervetion for stress eating to reduce cortisol and abdominal fat among overweight and obese women: an exploratory randomized controlled study. J Obes 2011; 651936.
- Goodman AB, et al. Behaviors and attitudes associated with low drinking water intake among US adults, Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, 2007. Prev Chronic Dis 2013; 10:E51.
- Akers JD, et al. Daily self-monitoring of body weight, step count, fruit/vegetable intake, and water consumption: a feasible and effective long-term weight loss maintenance approach. J Acad Nutr Diet 2012; 112:685-92.