As the days get shorter and temperatures go lower, the brain automatically releases an increased amount of melatonin. This acts to suppress the amount of energy produced, making one feel lethargic and unmotivated. There are things that can be done to stave off the body’s natural instinct to hibernate during the dark, cold winter, but you’ll need a plan to keep active.
For expats in Holland, there always seems two distinct mindsets, those who view the Dutch fall/winter season as mild and bright, and those who see it as being cold and dark. Whatever your personal take is, my suggestion for maintining wellbeing, both physically and mentally, is to: do as the locals do...
Four tips for staying healthy and keeping fit in Holland this fall/winter:
1) Dress in layers
The chillier it gets, the smarter it becomes to dress in layers which not only keeps you warmer but allows for easier heat regulation. You want to maintain the body’s temperature within a “normal” range. Fewer layers make that more difficult; removing one of two layers results in a much greater swing in temperature than removing one of four layers, for example.
There is a saying that goes “there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing”: wellington boots, waterproof apparel (for cyclists), raincoats (for ‘lopers’), scarves (for everyone) will help keep you warm and dry (well… less wet maybe), when the weather dictates.
When the outdoor temperatures fall, people turn up the heat indoors. But the heat can remove the normal level of humidity from the air causing the less desired result of dry, itchy skin on different parts of the body and cracked skin around hands and fingers. It can be beneficial to add a source of moisture during these months such as a humidifier.
Staying hydrated from the inside is also important. Drink lots of fluids like water and tea.
3) Exercise outdoors regularly
As the days shorten and the grey of winter sets in, make the most of any opportunity to get outdoors when the sun is shining. Perhaps plan regiment of walking – your lungs will appreciate the crisp air, your eyes can feast on autumn’s vibrant colours but most important, your immune system will convert as much of the daylight into vitamin D as possible.
If the wind isn’t an issue, bicycling is also a good option – not only is it enjoyable but it provides the green-friendliest mode of transportation from point A to point B.
Empty beaches during this time of year offer a great setting for excerce. If you prefer to excercise in a group, have a look at the Strandlopers website. For those with dogs, providing your pet with the chance to run and play will make you more physically active as well.
Outdoor exercise has a positive influence on one’s mood. It’s been shown that those who exercise outdoors have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increased levels of vitamin D. One group of people who may need to pay particular attention to the weather, though, and avoid extended exposure to extreme cold are those who suffer from asthma, as this could trigger a negative reaction.
4) Enjoy fruits of the season
Consider increasing your intake of fall and winter’s key fruits: apples, beets, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cranberries, pears, persimmons, pomegranates, pumpkins, rutabagas, turnips, squash, sweet potatoes and chestnuts, which can help keep you healthy on the inside.
And remember when experiencing the first symptoms of a cold, adding some extra garlic, onion, ginger and/or lemon to your diet, can have a positive effect on your ability to fight it off.
Personally, I like to add a healthy porridge (or muesli/oatmeal) to my diet during winter months. It’s a great way to start the morning as it contains energy-building carbohydrates and vitamin B1.
By applying an extra bit of effort to come up with a smart winter exercise program, remembering to layer on cold days, eating sensibly with an eye toward more nutritional meals, and always staying hydrated, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges of the year’s darkest season and, hopefully, remain healthy throughout.
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