It’s been a brutal winter across much of the country, and if you’re not hunkering down just trying to keep warm, you’re likely looking for fun ways to break the cabin fever.
Whether you’re braving the elements for sports-watching parties, warm drinks with friends, or more restaurant dining, remember you don’t have to bust your budget or put on those unhealthy winter hibernation pounds.
These five tips can help you maintain physical and fiscal health as you ride out the rest of the year’s wintry weather.
1. Plan for parties.
Winter gatherings often revolve around food. By planning in advance and keeping healthy eating in mind, it’s easier to make wise food choices.
“You can be part of the all the fun and stay on track,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., a distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University and past chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee. “Above all, just be mindful of health being so important.”
Going to a party hungry can derail a nutritious eating plan, so it’s a good idea to have a healthy meal or snack ahead of time, Kris-Etherton said.
When you do snack at a party, choose the most nutritious foods available. Try chicken wings without the skin, or head to the vegetable tray. Guacamole can be a good choice because avocados are rich in nutrients. Consider eating the dip with raw vegetables, not big scooping chips.
Watch your alcohol intake. Too much booze not only adds calories, but it also blunts your judgment and can cause you to sway from healthy eating goals, Kris-Etherton said.
The AHA recommends drinking in moderation if you do drink. On average that means up to one or two drinks a day for men and one for women — but keeping score at parties is sometimes tricky.
Pitchers or big glasses of beer or an alcohol-infused punch bowl can make it difficult to judge how much you are drinking. It’s the same with a bottle of wine that someone else is pouring or a mixed drink a friend makes for you.
Drinking individual bottles of beer or pouring glasses of wine on your own can help you keep track. Light beers are better calorie choices than standard beer. White wines tend to have slightly fewer calories than reds. Between drinks, have some water to slow your alcohol consumption.
2: Dining out strategies
As budgets start to recover from the holidays, dining out may seem appealing again — especially if the weather has you feeling trapped inside.
It’s best to select a seafood restaurant or order seafood at any restaurant, if it’s available, Kris-Etherton said. Choose items that are baked or broiled. Lightly pan-fried is OK, but deep frying adds fat and calories, Kris-Etherton noted.
When dining with a friend, consider sharing items. By splitting salads, appetizers, and entrées, you’ll eat smaller portions and get to try more from the menu. It will also save money. (It may not seem like much, but when you do the math over several meals out, it adds up.)
Drinking plenty of water throughout the meal can reduce both food and alcohol consumption, which saves calories and money. Consider forgoing the before-dinner cocktail or ordering sparkling water with a twist instead, and take it slow if you’ve ordered a bottle of wine. Many restaurants will cork the bottle so remaining wine can be taken home.
Desserts can be delightful but devastating when it comes to good nutrition. Once again, splitting is a good option. So is choosing a healthier fruit dessert. See if the restaurant offers fresh berries as an alternative to cakes, pies, and pastries.
If you know you are heading out to a special dinner, try to eat lighter at other times that day (and earlier in the week) so you can “save” the calories for the restaurant instead.
“Planning gives you a little more freedom,” Kris-Etherton said. “Then you don’t find yourself trying to make up for it afterward.”
3. Stay active this winter
It’s easy to just camp out on the couch when it’s frigid outside. But falling temperatures don’t have to translate into days of sitting around. Getting active helps burn calories and gives you something to do besides eat. Physical activity can also become a social outing — one that doesn’t emphasize food.
Is there a winter sport that interests you? Gather friends or family and get out there and give it a try.
Winter exercise doesn’t have to be a fancy ski trip or some other extreme sport. It can be as simple and inexpensive as taking regular walks or runs in the neighborhood or walking at a mall. Try indoor exercises such as yoga or a gym workout. Or consider active chores at home like raking leaves or shoveling snow. You could even get creative in your home even if you don’t have exercise equipment by jumping rope, running in place, doing pushups or jumping jacks, or just walking around.
The American Heart Association provides suggestions and precautions for staying active in cold weather.
Even at work, there are ways to reduce sedentary time. Consider using the stairs instead of the elevator at the office. At your desk, stand up and walk around as time allows. You could take breaks between tasks and meetings to walk to go get water. That keeps you hydrated and moving.
When watching television at home, getting up and moving around during commercials adds a little physical activity.
“Think about small steps that you can take,” said Kris-Etherton. “Every bit helps.”
4. Enjoy coffee and cocoa responsibly
After a chilly outdoor outing, or when huddling by the fire with friends or family, it’s natural to crave a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Be mindful of ways to fit that warm drink into your nutrition plan and your budget.
Brewing your own coffee at home can help save money and calories.
A latte with non-fat milk or a coffee or tea with flavored sugar-free syrup may do the trick. Skip the whipped cream and go for a low-fat milk froth on top instead. Consider adding cinnamon or a cinnamon stick for another type of low-cal flavoring.
Hot chocolate can be made with low-fat or fat-free milk. Another possibility is drinking cocoa powder and milk without sugar.
“Some of this may take training your taste buds,” Kris-Etherton added.
Less elaborate coffee and cocoa drinks also tend to be less expensive at coffee shops. Basic black coffee can be under $2 a cup, while a mocha or latte can approach $5 a cup, even for a small or medium. Three bucks alone isn’t much, but do the math considering all your coffee stops and the savings pile up.
5. Start looking ahead to warm weather fun
Late winter can be a good time to make vacation plans for sunnier months. It provides something exciting to look forward to this year.
Placing funds regularly in a dedicated vacation account can help you save. Depending on the destination, booking flights or hotels early — but not too early — can cut vacation costs.
Whether you’re embarking on a cruise or international trip or a less expensive excursion, like a hiking or camping trip closer to home or at a national park, the idea of getting out and about can help you cope with the final weeks of winter. It can also be an incentive for healthy eating and physical activity as you think about dusting off your warm-weather clothes.
Nutrition experts, however, suggest you think of healthy eating and exercise as a way of life, not something to do only before a vacation. And being mindful of your eating plan and physical activity during winter is a big step toward staying healthy year-round.
Remaining focused all year will help you be in shape when the time comes for a getaway and avoid slipping into unhealthy physical and fiscal habits during and after a trip.
Things to Consider
- Keep a healthy eating plan in mind at social gatherings by choosing snacks from the vegetable tray and avoiding chips and too much alcohol.
- Think of winter months as a good time for physical activity, whether choosing an outdoor sport, a brisk walk, or indoor exercises.
- Consider slashing sugar and heavy creams from coffee and cocoa drinks to save calories and dollars.
- Look into planning a vacation.
This article was provided by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.