The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting colder, which means many of us are finding it easier to curl up on the couch with our favorite unhealthy comfort food than to spend time exercising outside or cooking healthy meals. Unfortunately many of the behaviors that seem to come naturally with a change in seasons can also cause feelings of depression and unintentional weight gain. Focusing on attainable exercise goals and nutrient-dense foods will help our bodies survive winter without the unwanted changes to our health.

Even though the days of farmer’s markets and fresh garden vegetables are over for a while, winter still provides a bounty of fresh produce to fill up on. Apples, Brussels sprouts, cranberries oranges, and a multitude of root vegetables are all in season during the cold winter months. Focus on increasing your intake of these delicious and healthy foods by making hearty soups, salads and snacks. Clementines are a great winter snack for kids. Easy to transport, peel and eat, they are perfect for tossing in lunchboxes or as a special stocking stuffer treat.

The importance of getting adequate amounts of vitamin D in our diet has gained attention in recent years. The Adequate Intake (AI) levels for vitamin D range from 200 IU – 600 IU per day depending on age. Vitamin D is unique because of the body’s ability to produce it on its own in response to sun exposure. During the winter months, however, many people’s contact with sunlight is significantly reduced and can lead to symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, such as bone pain and muscle weakness. Some studies have even linked long-term deficiency to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Consuming a diet rich in vitamin D can help offset winter’s lack of sun exposure, so focus on foods such as salmon, tuna, milk and vitamin D-fortified cereals.

Even when the wind is blowing and there is snow on the ground, 30-60 minutes of physical activity should still be the goal. If you don’t own a gym pass, focus on making the weather conditions work for you. Shoveling snow or having a snowball fight with your kids can count as exercise! And if going outside just isn’t a possibility, try making small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking the mall for an hour or trying an at home workout DVD.

Following these simple tips can make this your healthiest winter ever!

Taryn Palmer is a registered dietitian for the Magic Valley YMCA.

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