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.
Growing up watching The Brady Bunch, I loved how when there was a problem, like Jan getting a bad perm, Greg having his first fender bender, or Marcia getting braces, it was always resolved in a happy ending by the end of the episode.
I didn’t think to question how Mr. and Mrs. Brady could afford to raise 6 kids and pay for a maid and the mortgage on a tri-level house. I know now, from raising my own kids, that braces are really expensive, and so is adding teenagers to your car insurance. Real-life decisions don’t always end as positively as a Brandy Bunch episode.
In my work, I counsel people who made a choice that costs them later. For example, if you don’t pick up prescription drug coverage when you first become Medicare eligible and then realize you need to add it later, you’ll get charged a late enrollment penalty. Many times in these cases, members have sadly told me that they didn’t know or that no one had told them. They’ve truly taught me the importance of staying informed.
Recently, I had the chance to meet with Callie Klein from COUNTRY Financial, and we found that we share a mutual desire to learn about each other’s professional services.
We know Medicare can be confusing, so we do our best to help people make sense of their options. Retirement planning can also be confusing, but Callie helped me to understand how choices like life insurance and long-term care can affect your financial future. Callie pointed out that people are living longer, and some people can spend just as many years in retirement as they did on their career. That’s what makes it so important to plan ahead, so your resources match your longevity.
As we enter a new year, I am reminded how fast time goes and how important it is to give some thought to your future now. Set some long-term goals rather than just short-term resolutions.
If you haven’t already and need help, I encourage you to seek out a professional like Callie. She showed a genuine concern for her clients and a desire to guide them toward the decisions that will help them attain their future retirement goals. Professionals like her can help you at least become educated and stay informed.
Most importantly, though, I wish you happiness in 2016, and I hope that, like an episode of The Brady Bunch, your biggest problems are resolved quickly and with a happy ending.
Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.
I’ve changed my diet, organized my life, and made healthier choices, so the last and biggest thing on the list is exercise.
I don’t like to exercise, as I think a lot of us don’t. I’m competitive, so I liked playing sports as a kid, but as an adult, exercising by myself is boring and hard work. If I had a gym membership and could read on a treadmill, it might be different. But as it is, it’s hard to make myself do it.
But if I can (for the most part) give up candy, completely abandon soda, and stop drinking coffee for a month, I can handle anything!
I started by doing a muscle-strengthening yoga routine every day, which was a great way to start for me. It wasn’t too intense, it was calming, and it really helped me regain some flexibility and balance I’d lost over the years.
Now, I’ve been doing P90X. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it used to have infomercials on TV, which automatically makes me suspicious. But I actually know a number of people who have done it, and my goal is less to get a killer six-pack and more to get in better shape, so I don’t really need it to live up to all its TV promises.
I borrowed the DVDs from a friend, so I didn’t spend all of the money they’re talking about. I’m also not following all of their meal plans or the exact exercise plan. Each day you’re supposed to do a different workout for a different part of your body, and they’re each about an hour and a half long with warmups and cool downs.
I usually can’t make it through the whole thing yet; they’re really difficult! I also do them more like every other day because I’m so sore the day after. They make you pour sweat, and they make you want to lie on the ground in your own sweat puddle to catch your breath.
But I can already see some improvements! And that’s really satisfying. Am I out running yet? No (it’s been so rainy!). But I am getting cardio and strengthening done, in my own bedroom no less.
Plus, I’ve found some new interests by doing them. For instance, there’s a kickboxing workout that I love, so maybe in the future, I might try kickboxing classes!
Do I think I’ll stick with this level of workout forever? Definitely no! Eventually, I’d like to mix things like this up with other activities, like yoga, runs, and more simple workouts. Once it’s a habit, it will really be more about doing something every day.
It’s all about finding the things that will keep you interested, engaged, and MOVING.
There are so many reasons (and studies on) why you should exercise. Mayo Clinic breaks it down perfectly: Exercise controls weight, fights health conditions and diseases, improves your mood, boosts your energy, and helps you sleep.
And Rally, our wellness tool, knows how important it is, too. It has tons of great missions to get you moving, like exercise 30 minutes every day, work up a sweat 3x a week, swim 30 minutes, and work your core, as well as weightlifting and walking missions.
So to help you get on a great fitness track that will entertain you and doesn’t require an expensive package, I’ve rounded up some activities for you to try for some of these missions.
This week is Sleep Awareness Week, just in time for the Daylight Savings Time change, so we will be giving you tips and info about getting a healthy amount of sleep each day.
Approximately 30% of Americans suffer from some insomnia symptoms, and 10% have issues functioning during the day because of it.
37 million people regularly snore, and many who snore have sleep apnea, where they stop breathing while sleeping. Sleep apnea hurts your daytime activity and is tied to more serious health problems.
Try keeping a sleep diary to monitor how well you sleep. This will be especially helpful if you visit a doctor for the problem. Devices like a Fitbit also keep detailed info on your sleep patterns.
Stop drinking caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bed to fall asleep more easily.
Don’t exercise 3 hours or less before bed. Exercise wakes up your system and can make it hard to fall asleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, wind down before bed with calming activities, like taking a relaxing bath or reading.
Turn off devices at least an hour before you go to sleep. The light from your TV, phone, and tablet screens can mess with the hormones that help you sleep. Machines and apps that recreate sounds like rain can make noise without the light.
Instead of telling you all about how healthy I’m being (although I am cooking and eating better!), I have a confession.
I binge on TV shows. I love TV bingeing.
Actually, I binge on all types of media. I binge on social media (a hazard of the job really), movies, and especially television shows. And when winter hits, especially after getting all new bedding for Christmas like I did this year, all I want to do is curl up in my comfy bed with my dog and Netflix. And this year has been no exception.
I may have (definitely did) watched all 6 seasons of Lost in the last month, and 3 of those were in the last week. (Because I don’t have self-control!) Did I choose a show that encourages this with a million mysteries? Probably. Is it actually crazy that I did this? Yes!
I know I’m not the only one who does this, but I have to say that I feel awful now. Is this partly because I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending? Probably (sorry Lost lovers!). Is it because I stayed up ‘til 3 a.m. to finish it before work? Totally.
But it’s also because it has been emotionally draining! Investing that much thought for days and hours in a row, especially in characters experiencing some serious drama, has been exhausting. I’ve felt the stress of their lives on top of my shoulders for the last three weeks. I may or may not have spent an unhealthy amount of time crying about people that aren’t real for the last day. That’s completely crazy!
Not to mention there’s a physical toll. Lack of sleep, check. Shoulders aching from stress, check. Back nearly out from sitting still for 8-hour blocks at a time, check. Puffy eyes and stuffed nose, check. An unhealthy level of Doritos in my body, check.
And guess what, this is bad for you! Science says so!
Scientists have compared sitting still for long periods to smoking. In this Huffington Post article, Dr. James Levine is quoted as saying, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. “
I sit all day at work, I’m hunched over my phone using my own and my job’s social media 24/7, and then I binge on TV in my bed all winter long. And all this sitting increases my risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, muscular problems, and depression, and it can even lower my energy. (See infographic below.)
And all this hunching over and staring at screens increases the risk for bad posture, back problems, carpal-tunnel, neck strain, and eye problems. The Atlantic recently highlighted a study about the scary amount of time we let our kids stare at screens, much more than the recommended 2 hour a day max, increasing their risk of all of those problems. And at this rate, I personally am spending at least 15 hours of my day with a screen, and that’s actually being generous for my time offline.