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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.
Illinois has a Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that gives you a free booklet of checks that you can use at local markets. Check it out on the Illinois Department on Aging’s site for details and participating counties and markets .
Many vendors only take cash (and some take SNAP and WIC benefits). Some booths only take small bills, 20s and smaller.
Many vendors don’t offer bags, so it’s a good idea to bring a few cloth ones you can use.
Most markets don’t allow dogs, so leave them at home.
Have an idea of what is in stock at that time of year, so you know what to expect. Use this map to find out what’s in season where you live.
2. Check the info booth first. If your market has an info booth, check there before you start shopping. The people working can let you know if there are any special things going on that day, like cooking demos.
Certain markets, like the new Champaign Farmers’ Market downtown, have special deals for SNAP users, so it’s always good to check with the info booth. At their market, they will double up to $20 of benefits per person while funds last when you bring your Link card to the market booth!
3. Go early or go late. If you go early, you will have first pick of the freshest and largest selection. If you go late, some farmers will offer discounts to clear out their stock before heading home.
4. Take a lap. Unless you know your market really well, don’t just buy the first things you see. By walking a lap through the market first, you can get the lay of the land, compare prices and selection, and taste samples.
5. Talk to the farmers. The farmers can answer questions about how the food was grown and harvested, talk about why their produce is or is not organic, offer recipes, give info about something you’ve never tasted, or recommend their favorites.
6. Be mindful. It’s considered rude to squeeze stone fruits, like peaches, plums, or tomatoes, because it can bruise them. And it’s considered rude to open husks of corn before buying them, which can actually make them less sweet. Also, look for whole produce, meaning veggies like carrots and beets with their green tops still whole. These will stay fresh longer, and you can make things like pesto sauces with the greens.
7. Take a risk. Sometimes you find things that are new, different, or even strange at the farmer’s market. This is the perfect opportunity to try something new because the farmers can usually give you advice on how best to use it.
8. Bring a friend or the family. Grocery shopping, unlike the farmers market, can feel like a chore. Take people with you to talk and walk with outside, and the farmer’s market instantly becomes a more fun activity. And you can always save money and split certain produce.
9. Keep it simple. When you’re cooking your food at home, go for simple recipes. Because you bought such fresh produce, you should let it shine. Put fresh wild strawberries over a salad or in a breakfast parfait instead of baking them into a cake. If you’re worried you won’t be able to use all of something you bought you can always freeze it and use the rest later. Use this guide from the FDA to make sure you’re storing and washing produce correctly.
10. Find the right market. Many areas have more than one farmers market within driving distance. If you can, test them all. Large farmer’s markets have a lot of energy, selection, and sometimes even dining options, but smaller markets often have good deals. Find the one that works best for you.
There’s something special about being part of a group. Spoken or unspoken, you rest easier knowing, “We’re in this together.”
You experience that feeling when you exercise in groups, too. Research shows those who sweat socially, like with a workout buddy, are more likely to stick with their fitness plan and see success.
In a Baylor University study, after teaching 53 female college students a specific weight-training workout, the researchers told them to do it on their own 3-days a week for 6 weeks.
Can you guess what happened? Every single one of them quit the study.
A workout buddy doesn’t guarantee success, but it makes success more likely, a review of 87 studies on 50,000 people found this link to be clea).
Still not convinced? Here are 5 more reasons to think about grabbing a friend and workout buddy before hitting the gym:
Time flies. This isn’t to say your 60-minute workout will be easy, but instead of constantly watching the clock, you can catch up on each other’s lives between sets, laugh, and have fun.
No more Debbie Downer. Who likes canceling plans with a friend? If your workout partner is counting on you to be there, you’ll be less likely to bail.
Share a babysitter. If your gym doesn’t have a kid center, share the cost of a sitter.
Keep perspective. Most of us are hard on ourselves. When you have workout buddies, they can help you see your progress and remind you of how far you’ve come.
Stay on track. Not only do friends help you see how far you’ve come, they also keep you thinner. Harvard University researchers found that a person’s risk of becoming obese goes up by 2% for every 5 obese friends or family members he or she has. Yikes!
Give social sweating a try, and let us know what you think.
I am guessing many of you are in the same boat as me—wondering what to do about that pesky winter weight.
It’s a common problem, and I know I should do something about it. I get inspired with the first nice days of spring, but it seems by wintertime, I am adding another layer of winter warmth, so to speak.
I know many fad diets don’t work long-term. I have heard about the Paleo Diet, but I can’t picture myself eating like a caveman. The Grapefruit Diet worked for me, sort of, but only because I hate grapefruit.
Probably not the way for me to go.
When I have a question, I go to an expert, and we have one here at Health Alliance. Her name is Karen Stefaniak, and she is our wellness program administrator. She told me many diets don’t work long-term because people limit what they eat but don’t make behavior changes.
“Unfortunately most people on restrictive diets eventually gain back the weight they lost and possibly a little more,” she said. “It’s a shame to go through all that effort to end up where you started. Changes in a person’s behavior are the only way to ensure a long-term success.”
She continued: “The key to successful weight loss is to set specific goals you can reach. For example, rather than saying you are going to lose 20, set a goal to lose one pound a week. Each week, pick a couple of things you can do that will help you lose that pound, like exercising more, limiting sweets or cutting down on snacks after dinner. Success breeds success.
“Reaching the goal of losing that first pound in week one will motivate you to keep going. You’ll begin to lose the weight slowly and at the same time learn behavior patterns that will help you keep the weight off. As always, talk with your doctor before starting any type of diet or exercise program.“
Well, Karen shared some do-able suggestions for starting a weight-loss plan. You could recruit a friend or coworker to start the journey together. I will give it a try, but I’m still hoping someone will come up with The Frito and Fried Chicken Diet. Oh wait, I am on that one now.