Even with an occasional 60-degree day, February isn’t exactly my favorite month for getting active (or doing anything really, except maybe watching college basketball and catching up on TV shows). I prefer to spend my winter under a warm blanket with a giant sweatshirt and my bunny slippers, remote in hand, butt on couch.
As someone who thinks the first snow of the season is magical and who saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens (chock-full of hope from crawl to credits) three times this winter, I know if I’m running a little low on hope and motivation, lots of others probably are, too. After the holiday goodies go stale, I’m kind of done with winter. The mere thought of being outside in the cold makes me cringe. (Once again, thank goodness for those rare warm February days.)
Despite the snow, ice, and occasional subzero wind chills (gross), you don’t have to hibernate for the whole season. A little rest mixed with a hobby here and there is a great recipe for a productive and satisfying winter, even if you’re like me and think stepping outside in the cold is pure torture.
In fact, relaxation is healthy, too. It not only helps refresh your mind, but it also helps lower your risk for certain diseases. Relaxation doesn’t mean lying in bed all day doing nothing. You can take some time to do something you love, catch up with a friend or family member on the phone (or in person if you’re ready to brave the cold), or try a new, relaxing hobby.
Winter is a gift-wrapped, guilt-free excuse handed to us each year (at least in the northern half of the United States), allowing us to put off our outdoor activities for about three months.
I need to cherish that gift, and here’s a short list of how I plan to do so with a mixture of stimulating and relaxing hobbies. You can customize the list and make the most of winter, too.
Nicole’s Ultimate Relaxation & At-Home Projects List
Make my dream a reality.
Although writing is literally my job, after years of writing about real-life events and health facts, I want to try my hand at fiction. I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since grade school, and it’s at the top of my bucket list (or sunshine list, as my friend aptly named it).
The verdict is still out on whether I’m any good, but this item is mostly about achieving a personal goal. Plus, writing is the perfect indoor activity for me (I can wear my bunny slippers AND make my dream come true).
Complete a major organization project.
Although it’s not quite as empowering as writing an entire novel, I would love to someday have every photo I’ve ever taken, or at least the good ones, organized both digitally and in print. (Not having printed photos makes me uneasy every time I watch a post-apocalyptic TV show or movie). Like my book, this one will take more than a season, but it’s another activity I can do inside.
I’m staying away from scrapbooking, though. I learned firsthand while creating a (very thorough) scrapbook of my senior year of high school that my perfectionism and scrapbooking don’t mix well when stress relief is my goal.
Take something old and make it new.
I spent a large chunk of last winter painting Mason jars to use as brightly colored vases in my apartment. I also started saving and painting olive, pickle, and pepper jars in the process, and suddenly, I had a winter hobby. I love olives, pickles, and peppers almost as much as candy, so my collection grew pretty quickly.
They were easy to paint (there are different techniques with varying degrees of difficulty) and reminded me of spring.
There are plenty of physical activities you can do without getting out in the nasty weather. Last winter, I started a step challenge. I got a LOT of steps, about 10,000 per day, sometimes closer to 20,000, mostly by walking around my apartment during commercial breaks, sporting events, and phone conversations. (Sorry, downstairs neighbors.)
I sometimes also do pushups, squats, crunches, and various other exercises while watching TV, and my all-time favorite exercise, dancing, is living room-friendly as well. Basically, as long as dancing and/or being able to watch TV is on the table, I’m a fan of exercise.
Channel my inner kid.
I’m somewhat of an expert at this one. For instance, I ate SpaghettiOs while writing this blog post.
Anyway, adult coloring books are a thing now. My co-workers and I have started having coloring nights after work. I use a kid coloring book, though. To me, the adult ones look too tough to be fun, and I’m a bigger fan of Disney characters than abstract designs anyway.
Spring sprang in my apartment about a week ago because, like I’ve mentioned again and again, I’m tired of the cold. Decorating helps me cut back on boredom and allows for some creativity. Once it’s done, it’s a daily reminder that spring isn’t too far away. I highly recommend this one.
Enjoy those rare warm days.
If it’s going to be 60 degrees outside (or even upper 50s), I intend to get out and enjoy the spring-like temperature. As much as my relaxation and indoor projects list motivates me, nothing is quite as motivating as being able to go outside on a sunny day in a spring jacket.
Disclaimer: While the items on this list can help you fight boredom, escape from stress, feel accomplished, and stimulate your mind, they’re not magic. Winter will still be winter.
When the relaxation and indoor hobbies aren’t masking the winter grind, just remember, jelly bean season is in full swing, and pitchers and catchers reported this week. Spring will come.
Having gone through grad school while working in a Division I college athletics department, I thought I was a pro at dealing with stress.
Oh, you need game recaps, live scoring, social media coverage, and postgame interviews for four sporting events tonight? Cool, I’m on it. I’ll pencil in my critical analysis paper for my 20-page reading assignment for about 4 o’clock tomorrow morning, right after I finish my 5-page response to my other 20-page reading assignment.
That was once pretty much my life. And with a little Mountain Dew here and there (and more than a few post-midnight candy binges), I made it work and even enjoyed it from time to time. I mean, I was doing my dream job. It just happened to be at an extremely busy and stressful point in my life.
To understand how I deal with stress, you have to know a little bit about how I deal with anything. I’m not exactly laid back, and I’ve probably never done anything casually or halfway in my entire life. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. You know, go big or go home.
Growing up, I never wanted to be any teacher’s second-favorite. I was the annoying teacher’s pet, cares-way-too-much-about-everything type. Any error on any assignment bothered me way longer than it should have, and a minus sign at the end of a letter grade on a report card caused physical pain.
I participated in nearly every high school extracurricular activity, from cheerleading and dance to the ecology team and Student Council. (I stayed away from competitive sports, though. Per my all-or-nothing attitude, if I wasn’t good at something, “go big or go home” meant go home.)
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I think too much, worry too much, and let other people’s opinions get to me. Looking back now and knowing how I still am, I realize I don’t actually deal well with stress at all. And that busy grad-school schedule I stuck to wasn’t actually impressive. It was just busy and lacked the portion of life that’s meant for sleeping.
Although perfectionism sometimes leads to positive results, like good report cards, accuracy at work, and being everyone’s favorite group project member, it’s not as pleasant as it sounds. Nobody is perfect, so no matter what, perfectionists fall short of their own impossible expectations. Believe me. It happens to me nearly every day.
I can turn something that’s supposed to be fun and innocent, like baking sugar cookies, creating a Halloween costume, or choosing a new series to watch on Netflix, into a needlessly dramatic situation.
I’m a great example of how NOT to handle stress. Here are a few tips I’ve learned (but don’t always use) along the way.
Don’t stay up all night for work. I was a champ at pulling all-nighters during my college years, but now, not so much. And even if you can do it, it’s not exactly good for you.
Don’t load up on caffeine (especially if caffeinated drinks are normally not your thing). A few nights of extreme restlessness and extra anxiety were enough for me to stop my caffeine-bingeing in its tracks.
Don’t skip lunch to later eat your weight in candy corn. This is always a bad idea. Don’t skip lunch for any reason (unless you’re too sick to eat or something), and never eat your weight in anything.
Don’t cut back on exercise. Working out is not only good for your physical health but also your mental health, especially when dealing with stress.
Don’t focus on the possibility of failure, which in addition to strokes and snakes, is one of my biggest fears. Thinking too much about failure only slows down your success.
Don’t do it all alone. Some perfectionists, including me, are pretty good at keeping up their calm appearances on the outside. Don’t try to handle all your stress alone, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. (If you’re a perfectionist, asking for help is one of the hardest things to do.)
Perfectionism isn’t healthy. On top of the bad eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, it can come with loads of anxiety, and it’s probably not good for my blood pressure or migraine-prone head, either. My late nights fueled by soda are never my most productive nights anyway (although they led to some dramatic reflection papers in college).
Here are some ways I deal with stress that actually work for me.
Taking outdoor walks (I recommend literally stopping to smell the roses and glancing at the beautiful fall trees. I did both this week. That’s about as close as I get to living in the moment.)
Dancing in the kitchen, living room, bathroom, parking lots, anywhere really (except during important meetings and such)
Cleaning my apartment (It helps me feel an instant sense of accomplishment.)
Visiting the holiday aisles of my favorite craft stores (If thinking about the holidays stresses you out even more, I wouldn’t recommend this one. Just go to your version of a happy place.)
Listening to my favorite jams (For me, this consists of a lot of ‘90s boyband stuff, Broadway hits, and Taylor Swift. Don’t judge.)
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try your hardest or take pride in your work. I’m just encouraging you to try to put everything into perspective, realize you can ask for help, and know that sometimes, things won’t be perfect.
Take this blog post for instance. In some not-so-surprising twist, I’ve toyed around with it off and on for nearly a week. I’m sure I could pull it apart more, but I think there is sometimes a point when good enough is good enough. (Thank goodness I’m usually on deadline.) And in the case of this perfectionist’s blog post, I think I’m there.
Try living in the moment (responsibly) rather than stressing out about everything. I’ve never really done it, but I’ve heard good things.
But that’s not all! I’m not participating in any challenges from work, but I’m still working out every day. That’s right everyone! I haven’t been this active for 10 years! So the truth is, even if it’s been a decade, there are ways to start getting active.
That’s not to say I started running 5 miles every morning. I’ve actually started doing yoga in the comfort of my own home. The gradual build is important to me.
I know I’m not the only one in the world who doesn’t want to put her struggle on display, but there are ways to start without witnesses.
Choosing Flexible Workouts
Rally, our wellness tool, has missions that can help you ease into fitness for when you’re not ready for a gym full of people quite yet. And increasing your flexibility and endurance is a great way to do that.
Whether it’s meditating for 20 minutes every day, stretching every day, dancing anytime, or going to yoga class every week, there is a mission to help you build to your goals. I’ve been wanting to do yoga for years, so this build has been a no-brainer for me.
Now, I have to admit, I’m not ready to go to yoga class once a week. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a yoga class (even just in movies), but the teacher tends to walk around and correct everyone’s form.
And while I would love to have perfect form eventually, there was just NO WAY I could’ve done some of the things I’m already doing on that first day. Let alone hold them for 5 breaths.
So what I’ve done is pick out a simple 10-minute routine (although it takes me more than 20 to work both sides) designed for something that’s a priority for me, building muscle tone.
And I know there are some poses in it that I simply couldn’t do on the first day, like this craziness:
But 2 weeks later, I’m doing them. (Although I’m sure my version of that top one still isn’t quite perfect yet.) And each day, they get a little bit easier, and I hold them for a little bit longer. And as soon as I lose the burn from this routine, I can upgrade to something new and different.
I’m still working on mixing more things into my daily routine (mostly ab workouts at this point and hope to move on to cardio soon), but I can already feel the difference in my arms, legs, and most noticeably, my flexibility.
Here are some resources to help you follow my lead and start your own build to yoga class.
Each year as the weather turns icy, we return to one major health topic for older adults, avoiding a fall. How big is the risk actually, though?
Truth in Numbers
No matter how healthy you are, falling is a real risk. About 1 out of 3 adults age 65 or older falls each year, but less than half of those talk to their doctors about it.
Sure, you might think, but everyone falls once in a while, right? Kids fall all the time! But your mom falling could be a lot more serious than your toddler. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults.
In 2013, 2.5 million people were treated for nonfatal falls, and 734,000 of those had to be hospitalized. And in 2012, the medical costs from falls reached $30 billion.
They cause the most broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and over 95% of hip fractures in older adults. And women are twice as likely as men to break a bone.
What Causes A Fall
Icy and slippery weather is of course a big reason that falls happen, but winter isn’t the only time to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Seeing is an essential part of most of our days, but as you age and your vision gets worse, it can increase your risk of falling. If you can’t see the danger, it’s harder to avoid it.
Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter can cause side effects, like dizziness and drowsiness, that can make it more likely you’ll take a tumble.
Dangers in your homes, like tripping hazards, stairs, and slippery bathtubs, are a huge risk.
And many people who fall once are afraid of falling again and what could happen if they do. This leads them to limit their activities, lowering their mobility and fitness, which can actually increase their chances of falling and of getting hurt.
A recent study also found that many people’s falls are because of an infection, which can cause low blood pressure, which can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. This can both lead to your fall, or make you confused about what happened afterwards.
There are ways to help stop falls before they happen:
Get your eyes checked each year, and always keep your glasses prescription as up to date as possible.
Ask your doctor to review all your meds, and see if there are other options for any drugs that might be increasing your risk of falling.
Fall-proof your home. Adding grab bars in the bathroom and railings to stairs and even improving the lighting in your home can make a huge difference.
Get enough calcium and Vitamin D from foods like dairy, soy milk, orange juice, and salmon, or take a regular supplement.
Get tested for osteoporosis.
Remove clutter. A messy house can actually increase your chance of falling at home. Learn more.
Get active! There are great options and resources for getting healthy at any age.
Tai Chi is especially helpful for improving your balance and leg strength. Use this Tai Chi Fall Prevention Toolkit to get started now.
Try walking outside with friends or family.
Weight bearing exercises can lower your chance of hip fractures.
Water aerobics is a great way to move without stressing your joints.
Moving to the beat and changing to a rhythm are shown to reduce falls. Get dancing at your local senior center’s events, take lessons, or just let loose at home.
I absolutely love watching sports and worked for my favorite college sports program for nearly five years (go Illini!), but I’m terrible at them. I’m clumsy, and I can’t catch a ball to save my life.
I probably had the lowest whiffle ball batting average in grade school history, striking out more than a time or two. I’m the kid who brought kickball cheerleading to fourth-grade recess to get out of actually having to play kickball, and I joined band in fifth grade because I knew it would eventually get me out of physical education in high school.
I don’t classify myself as athletic. Don’t get me wrong; I have a decent jump shot in basketball (thanks, Dad!) and can throw a pretty nice spiral on the football field, but my 5-foot frame doesn’t really lend itself to either of those sports.
For all my clumsiness (I’ve fallen down walking in a straight line on more than one occasion), I can usually hold my own on the dance floor. I was a dancer and cheerleader in middle school and high school, and dancing is still my favorite way to work out. When it comes to dancing, my body forgets that it’s clumsy.
To me, running and hiking seem like punishments, and playing almost any kind of sport sounds like an embarrassment waiting to happen. But dancing is different. I actually have fun doing it.
I’m trying to make healthy lifestyle choices in 2015, so I recently returned to Zumba class. I hadn’t been since last June, so I prepared by dancing around my living room for the week leading up to it (boom, exercising to be ready to exercise). I had to learn a lot of new routines during my class after being out nearly eight months, but it was worth it to get in some good cardio while doing something I actually enjoy.
For those of you who don’t know much about Zumba, it’s basically an hour-long (depending on where you go) dance party with an instructor to teach you moves that work your thighs, abs, arms, calves, heart, and more.
You don’t have to know much about dance, but it’s a good way to channel your inner hip-hop dancer or pretend you’re the Latin dance star you’ve always wanted to be (wait, that might just be a personal dream of mine). Health Alliance offers discounts to some gyms that teach Zumba classes. Check them out.
Even I, someone who is way more clutch writing from press row than standing at the free-throw line and who will do almost anything to get out of playing a sport or running on a treadmill, have found my exercising niche. If I can, I’m sure you can, too.
I’m living proof you don’t have to hit home runs (or even make contact at the plate in whiffle ball) to find a way to get in shape.
I finished the food tracking mission on Monday by completing 4 weeks of it! Then it gave me the option to continue, and, while I still haven’t found a food tracking app I love yet, I decided keeping it up was probably a good idea.
My next goal with this is to start actually counting calories. As I suspected it would, food tracking shows what an inconsistent eater I am. Hopefully, if I can find a good way to start counting, I can actually see how bad my diet is for me.
Dancing on the other hand, is likely abandoned. Now we know, not my exercise. This, with the end of the 19-Day Arm Challenge means that I’m ready to pick some new missions! And this time, I’ve actually chosen a lot, but they will each help me focus on different things.
The first is diet related. Besides food tracking, I’m going to try to do two sugar-free days each week. Its description:
Sugar is dehydrating, a big source of empty calories – and all over the place. Check the labels and try to avoid added or processed sugars for a whole day (natural sugars in fruit and milk are fine).
Then, for exercise, because I think yoga would be a really good activity to learn over the cold winter months, and good for my back problems, I will start forcing myself into a yoga routine by stretching every day and meditating for 20 minutes a day (which I’ve never tried before and sounds interesting.)
Can’t touch your toes? Try daily stretches to increase flexibility, prevent exercise-related injuries, and get blood flowing to your muscles. About 10 minutes should be plenty.
Find your bliss, whether it’s meditation, prayer, or art… that mental calm and focus can help your body too, reducing stress hormones and even lowering blood pressure.
Then, on the mental and stress health fronts, I’m going to try to read for 20 minutes every day, an activity I don’t do nearly enough, and have a bedtime ritual, which will also be great for my newly increased dental routine.
Recapture the lost art of winding down: read a book or magazine before you turn off the lights. (It also qualifies writing where you log activity, but I will have to contain myself on this front and not cheat by counting writing for work!)
If you have trouble falling asleep, your body may be too wired. Turn off the screens an hour before bed (they reduce sleep-inducing melatonin) and try a wind-down bath, book, or herbal tea ritual.
I’ve never been a deep sleeper, and I rarely get enough of it, so I’ve been thinking a more solid routine before bed might be exactly what I need to start getting a better night’s sleep. Plus, reading beforehand will be such a calming form of reward.
So I know I’ve chosen a lot of things this time, and I’m not promising they’re all going to work out well at the same time, but I think together they will give me a nice level of activity each day towards different goals for different categories of health.
If you’re following along with me, you too should think about winter activities. I’ve started all of this at a time that not a lot of outdoor workouts are doable for much longer (or not at all with the rain in Illinois!) Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can prepare myself this winter and avoid entering my standard hibernation mode. I think improving my diet and starting to work on my muscle strength and flexibility are likely my best options. What about you?