Once the sun takes his hat off, resist the urge to put on yours and hibernate. Because hidden among the frosted leaves is a host of benefits to your health and happiness. We asked commissioning editor of Men's Health magazine Alex Harris for his tips on how to motivate yourself, face down winter’s challenges – and flourish.
15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: survive winter – and emerge healthier than ever.
Make health a habit
Unless you're a serious athlete, you're probably not up at dawn pounding the pavement. It's a step too far for most of us. Healthy activities are about balance: do too little, and you'll be sharing belts with Santa – do too much and you'll be punishing your body in other ways. Still, regular, intense exercise is a habit worth picking up. The trick is to try and turn it into routine - and reward yourself afterward. Leave your trainers and kit next to your bed at night, so when you wake up they're ready and waiting. Jog; return home; reward yourself with a nice coffee. Eventually, your brain associates the activity with a positive pay off. Other activities you should add to your winter wish list: start your day with a green tea to prep your metabolism for the comfort food onslaught; add a little salt and honey so you're properly hydrated (all that cold makes your skin dry).
Out with the cold
While you're sat on your bed, lacing up those trainers consider this: training in the cold is one of nature's little fitness hacks and results in something remarkable when it comes to your body fat. Scientists discovered that lower temperatures activate something inside you called brown fat. Sounds like chocolate blubber? It’s actually a good fat, which burns the bad kind – the stuff that tests the mettle of your waistband button. Perfect motivation to get outside…
Don't get SAD
It may be the season to be jolly, but your hormones have a different idea as light evenings recede into memory. If you’re travelling and jet lag becomes a drag, take action before you become an international man or woman of misery. Firstly, combat seasonal affective disorder on the inside. Vitamin D dissipates when the sun goes down, so take a supplement regularly (I opt for a Vitabiotics supplement and an egg each morning for a good dosage). This vitamin has a big impact on your brain function, mood and a host of other happiness influencers. Consider investing in a sunrise alarm clock, too. It does wonders for breakfast table conversation, as it switches on your lagging noggin so you wake up in a better mood.
Foods to boost immune system
Your immune system is an unsteady ship – and everything sticks its oar in. Ensure a safe journey by sorting out your diet. My routine has been honed from experience and a desire for convenience. I stick to one or two coffees a day as too many can slow nutrient absorption. Veg takes up two-thirds of my plate for every meal (immune boosting foods like asparagus, pak choi, carrot, celery, onion and garlic make an easy, quick stirfry.). Anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger and oily fish are devoured daily, as they further bolster your immune system. When it comes to snacking (and I enjoy snacking) it's handy to have a bag of walnuts in your desk or hand luggage; they're beneficial to your brain and arteries – and they stop you picking up another slab of chocolate from duty free.
Ditch excess baggage
So, you probably travel regularly – making much of what I've advised here that bit more challenging. You never know what the hotel gym will be like (or if there is one). But jetsetters need not fret; there’s a couple of tricks to try. Simply turn your hotel room into a multi-gym with a resistance band. Pick one up for a fiver and you can push, press, pull and squat, either anchoring the band on a door or on an opposing limb. And never underestimate the power of your body weight – air squats are killer when done quickly and press-ups are the most underrated exercise out there. So next time you travel, leave excuses where they belong: in departures, next to the chocolates.
Follow Alex on Twitter @Alex_MensHealth for more tips and advice.
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