Staying Fit for Fall

You can feel it in the coolness of the air and see it in the changing colors of the leaves. The long days of summer have past and the seasons are transitioning to autumn. How can we maintain our summer shape when bathing suit season will soon be a relic of the past?

Just as we see squirrels gathering acorns to prepare for winter, our bodies innately know that they need to prepare for the cold months ahead. So why do we seem to gain weight in the fall? Typically, we eat about 200 calories more per day in the fall that will eventually add up to 3-4 extra pounds per year. You can blame it on genetics! This hoarding of calories is believed to be a survival mechanism during the long winter months with a scarcity of food. Fortunately for most of us, food is plentiful and we don’t need to gather vast food stores to survive the winter. So what are some strategies to overcome what nature has instilled in us?

First, let’s understand a bit about our biological clocks. We usually don’t think about this unless we are traveling across multiple time zones, but we each have an internal clock that controls our body’s metabolism, sleep cycles and eating patterns to name a few. This clock is based on what is called the “circadian rhythm.” With the shorter fall days, the body naturally has to adjust its clock and get back into balance. Less daylight also affects our moods because light stimulates serotonin, our “feel-good” neurotransmitter. When serotonin levels decrease, we can experience moodiness. An all too common response to moodiness is to consume sweets (“naked carbs”) that will perk us up.

Thus, spending time outdoors is extremely important for our overall health. Now is not the time to turn into a couch potato. Exercise is key to staying fit. And with the kids back at school, you may notice that you have a bit more “me” time. Fall is a great time to exercise outdoors. The air is invigorating making running, walking, hiking and biking perfect outdoor activities. Give a workout to all your senses—the cool air, the beautiful fall foliage, the taste of newly picked crunchy apples and the raking of the fallen leaves. Yes, raking leaves can be exercise! All these activities will allow you to de-stress.

Photo credit: cvrcak1

Photo credit: cvrcak1

Besides movement and sunlight, we need adequate sleep. This may seem obvious. Since the nights are getting longer, we are able to get more sleep. Try getting a full eight hours and see how refreshed you will feel. Sleep rejuvenates the body and strengthens our immune systems. Studies have shown that those who are deprived of adequate sleep have a tendency to gain weight. Optimal sleep temperatures are between 60-68 degrees. So go ahead and open the window for some fresh air.

And finally nutrition is the other component in the fitness equation. When the temperatures start to drop, we think of rich, thick comfort foods. However, if you take a look at the foods that are in season during the fall, they are perfect for wellness. For an overview on eating for the seasons, click on the link http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/62212-eating-with-the-seasons.html.

The foods that are in season in fall are usually the deep orange and red fruits and vegetables. Examples are squashes, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, tangerines, pomegranates and grapefruits. The brighter the color of the vegetable or fruit, the more health benefits it has. Much of the fall produce is full of fiber, antioxidants and immune-supporting vitamins and minerals. These immune-supporting nutrients will help our bodies prepare for the approaching cold and flu season. A few of the essential infection-fighting nutrients are vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc. Both vitamin A and C have been shown to improve resistance to infections and help make infections less lengthy and more tolerable. Zinc has been shown to be involved in antibody production. For an example of a delicious recipe using fall ingredients, check out http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/recipe-fall-2012.html.

Not only do we want the fall produce in our diets, but also we want to ensure that we have adequate protein to maintain our weight and health. Because protein breaks down more slowly, the body’s blood sugar will be maintained at more constant levels and you will have fewer cravings for sugary food. Now is the time to think about adding those interesting beans that are in the farmers’ markets. They have lots of fiber that also help in blood sugar regulation. Also, drink lots of water and have green tea for your morning wake up. Green tea is rich in antioxidants that help to fight infections, increase metabolism and reduce cholesterol.

So here’s to a whole new approach to fall. You’ll be glad once the holidays come around that you made some changes!

© Geri Wohl

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