Are you feeling more emotional these days? Are you feeling physically and emotionally unmotivated to exercise, get work done, or just stay on task?
If so, you're not alone, and, no, you're not just imagining things, either. The winter blahs — or, to be technical, "seasonal sadness" — are real. Many people (me included) feel especially tired, sluggish, and more moody at this time of the year.
The lack of sunlight, shorter days, snow, rain, and chill down to your bones can put a damper on your mood and motivation to work out and to eat right. Somewhat naturally, we spend more time indoors during the winter months. We graze more and generally are less physically active. This makes winter the perfect time to hibernate, stay inactive, and just chill until spring, right?
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but winter is precisely the time we want to remain active and mindful about what we're eating. Why? Because regular exercise boosts your immune system, and a strong immune system can help ward off colds and flu.
And guess what? You don't have to be a super-athlete to give your immune system a boost. All you have to do is simply walk outdoors for 30 minutes a day and do some strength training two or three days a week. Those walks don't even have to be 30 consecutive minutes — you can break it down to two 15-minute segments or even three 10-minute segments. Easy, right?
In addition to staying physically active, I encourage everyone to take a serious look at the processed, packaged, and empty-calorie snacks that dominate so much of the American palate. Is it any wonder that many of us feel so tired, sluggish, and unmotivated?
For whatever reason (advertising and convenience), most of us no longer eat whole and raw foods; therefore, must of us are lacking the vital micro- and macronutrients we need to fuel our daily lives. As a result, our national health has weakened, causing far too many of us to fall victim to disease, disability, depression, and lost productivity.
To immediately improve your energy and mood, eat more vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits are by far the best sources of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and fiber. Decades of research have confirmed the myriad benefits that come simply from eating more greens and fruits.
To get you started, here are my top vegetables and winter fruits that will give you the most bang for your nutritional buck.
My top three vegetables
Collard greens. Did you know that a cup of collard greens contains more calcium than a cup of milk? According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 1 cup of collard greens contains 357 milligrams of calcium, vs. 306 milligrams of calcium in dairy milk. Collards are also high in vitamins K and A, magnesium, and folate. I love collards raw in a salad, a smoothie, or cooked till tender in a little chicken broth and onions.
Kale. This super green also packs a powerful green punch. I use kale the same ways I prepare collards.
Spinach. This is high in vitamins K and A, magnesium, beta carotene, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate. Tender baby spinach is so good I can even eat it raw. Spinach is a versatile green that can be added to a variety of raw and cooked dishes. I love spinach in smoothies and spinach pies, too.
My top three winter fruits
Clementines. This small citrus fruit is available starting in December. All that little sweetness is only 35 calories.
Grapefruits. They come into season in January and stay satisfyingly sweet and juicy until summer. The sweet, tart, and cleansing taste of grapefruit is a great way to start the day.
Avocado. Yup, avocados are actually a fruit, and their rich, monounsaturated fats are just what our winter selves crave. Avocados are high in vitamins K, E, C, B-vitamins, fiber, potassium, copper, and folate. I use this versatile fruit on toast, in smoothies, as a dip (guacamole), and as a base for an amazing chocolate pie. Yum!
So, starting today, do your mood and immune system a favor by incorporating more exercise into your daily life and by eating more greens and fresh fruits.