Staying Healthy This Winter

As the temperature drops and the snow piles up outside, it’s easy for us to feel like hibernating until springtime! In Canada, however, spring can be far off, and staying sedentary through the winter can have significant effects on your health and well-being. Being sedentary can affect your mood, energy, and increase your risk of physical injury or falls (especially on the icy Ottawa streets!). So, although it is a challenge, it pays to be active through the wintertime.

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) has released guidelines based on research for how often we should be active and sedentary through the day. If you follow these guidelines, you are at a lower risk of many physical and mental conditions and illnesses and improve your physical function and quality of life.

Physical Activity

All Canadians age 18+ should be striving for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. This may sound like a lot but getting 20-30 minutes of activity in each day will help you hit this target. Examples of activities include brisk walking, cycling, gardening, hiking, and shoveling. Along with this guideline, Canadians should be doing activities and exercises for muscle strength at least two times per week. These can be activities like yoga or weightlifting and should be focused on the major muscle groups of the body.

If you have a chronic health condition like heart disease or osteoporosis, or a disability, check in with your primary healthcare provider before making big changes to your exercise routine. When doing more vigorous physical activity like weightlifting or running, it is very important to warm up the muscles you will be working with to help prevent injuries.

Sedentary Time

So, you’ve finished your 30-minute walk for the day, and now you want to curl up and watch TV for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, even if you hit your activity goals, too much sedentary time can be just as bad for your overall health! The CSEP guidelines state that we should stick to 8 hours or less of sedentary time in the day, and only 3 hours or less of recreational screen time. This means that if you have a sedentary job like working in an office (or from home) you might be already racking up close to 8 hours of sedentary time!

Fortunately, there are ways we can break up that time. If you need to be sedentary for a long time, it is helpful to break up that time by standing and doing some stretches or light exercises for a few minutes every 30-60 minutes (this is a great way to reset your posture if you find yourself slumping!). If you can do work or watch TV while standing, you can greatly reduce how much time you are sitting still. These small steps will add up and lead to a healthier lifestyle!

Sleep

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is more than just getting active. Sleep is also a very important part of the equation! Research shows that getting 7-9 hours of good-quality sleep helps with energy and cognitive function. If you feel like your sleep is not “good-quality”, here are a few tips to try to turn that around:

  • Try to be consistent with your sleep schedule. Changing your sleep time can make it harder to sleep well!
  • Limit caffeine or alcohol consumption before bed. Caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep, while alcohol can disrupt your sleep through the night.
  • Limit naps through the day. This can be a tricky thing to do if you are suffering from lack of sleep, but taking regular naps, especially long ones (greater than 30 minutes) can disrupt your nighttime sleep.
  • Prepare your body and mind for sleep. Avoid light-emitting screens like TV, computers, and phones right before bed. If you find your mind racing when you try to sleep, try a guided meditation app to help calm and organize your thoughts!
  • Exercise! Physical activity in the day can help to improve blood flow and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep.

Nutrition

Lastly, nutrition plays a major role in your overall physical and mental health and wellness. Following the Canada Food Guide is a great way to make sure you are eating healthy. Here are some general tips:

  • Avoid processed foods like pre-made meals and snacks. These foods often have high calorie content but are not high in vitamins, minerals, or fibre.
  • Limit how much saturated fat you eat. Too much saturated fat can increase the risk for chronic diseases. Examples of foods that contain saturated fat are meats, especially red meat, butter, and cheese. Instead, try to replace with foods that contain unsaturated fats, like fish and certain oils and seeds.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is great for your health, and water is a healthier alternative to things like pop or coffee.

This seems like a lot of work!

If this all seems like a lot to take in, don’t worry! Any positive change is better than nothing, and making small and gradual changes is a great way to start. Set yourself a weekly goal that targets one or two of these topics and try to be consistent in hitting those goals. Who knows, by springtime you might look back on this winter and be proud of the changes you’ve made towards a healthier lifestyle!

About The Author

Jonathan Rankin obtained his MSc in Physiotherapy at McMaster University, and also completed both a BSc and an MSc in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. He has a strong background in exercise, from working as a personal trainer at the University of Ottawa to conducting research on exercise during pregnancy in his master’s degree.

References:
CSEP Physical activity guidelines for adults age 18-64: https://csepguidelines.ca/guidelines/adults-18-64/
CSEP Physical activity guidelines for adults age 65+: https://csepguidelines.ca/guidelines/adults-65/
Canada Food Guide: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en

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