As the days shorten, get fit (and stay fit) this fall

The fall season has arrived. Shorter, rainy days wearing our fleece jackets, munching on pumpkin scones, sipping egg-nog lattes, watching new reality television shows and attending all those holiday parties.

This translates into the average American gaining 1-2 pounds of bodyfat (but sometimes up to 10) by New Year's Day! Gaining 1-2 pounds year after year can really add up to a serious health problem.

Intake must equal outflow

Basically, weight gain is about energy in and energy out. We take in energy by consuming food and expend energy through physical activity. Physical activity and diet should balance each other out; an imbalance can result in weight gain or loss.

Park far, far away

Part of the blame also falls on society. How many times have you gone to the store only to see people fighting for the closest parking spot to save a few extra steps?

Advances in technology and environmental factors have reduced the opportunity for physical activity. This creates an inactive, sedentary environment, particularly in large cities like Kirkland, Bellevue and and Seattle.

Even though Seattle was rated the fittest city in the February issue of Men's Fitness magazine this year, the Washington State Department of Health says currently 58 percent of adults in Washington are overweight or obese.

Climate is potentially one of the most important environmental barriers to being physically active. Physical activity helps control weight gain, and evidence supports the fact that people are less physically active during these rainy, windy months with less daylight hours.

An ounce of prevention

To prevent this potential weight gain, here are some tips

In warmer weather, you tend to want to eat lighter meals such as salads and fruits, drink more fluids and do more outdoor activities. But in winter, people may tend to eat more comfort foods rich in sugars and starches, further increasing the potential to gain weight.

Individuals may also feel less concerned about this weight gain during the colder months. A loose sweater, for example, easily conceals a few extra pounds. However, as summer approaches, bringing with it more opportunities to reveal the body - wearing shorts and tank tops - people tend to refocus their concerns over body image and, as a result, refocus their outlook on nutrition.

In theory, diet shouldn't change much in winter because of the quality of foods are still available to us during these months.

Avoiding winter pounds involves more than just watching what you eat. It's also about being active, and being active can help with more than just weight control. The key is to find a variety of activities that you enjoy doing and do them most days of the week. Physical activity can alleviate feelings of depression and experts believe it may actually reduce the incidence of clinical depression.

If a person can maintain or increase their level of physical activity, he or she may feel happier, more energetic, better about themselves physically, and weight may be controlled.

These psychological benefits may occur for a number of reasons. For example, physical activity could act as a distraction from the winter climate, promote a sense of control over an individual's health and body image or provide opportunities for enjoyable social interaction.

Get that heart rate up

But increasing your level of activity does not mean just going for your leisurely stroll through the park. This means pushing yourself a bit - making your heart work at a level just higher than what you are comfortable with.

Currently most experts recommend 60 minutes of moderate activity daily. Moderate activity is activity that makes you breathe a bit harder and that raises your heart rate.

One common negative barrier to being more active is the complaint that I don't have time. Did you know you benefit from just one minute of exercise a day? Current guidelines do suggest that you can accumulate these 60 minutes throughout the day.

Find three 10-minute periods in the day to go for a walk. Then you can build up this activity over the day and gradually increase it to the 60 minutes over time. Look for what will stop you from being physically active and how you can overcome those negative barriers.

Take small opportunities to increase physical activity.

Forsake the escalator and doughnut

It's about purposely making active choices such as using the stairs over the escalator and elevators. Instead of e-mailing someone, get up and walk across the office to talk with him or her. Get off the bus one stop early and walk. Park in the spot farthest away from the building you're going to. Talk business over a walk instead of over a doughnut and a coffee.

It's not about drastically changing your lifestyle. It's about taking small, simple steps to improve your overall health and wellness. It only takes effort until it becomes a habit.

What small step could you take today to improve your health?

Certified personal trainer and educator Joy Shultz can be reached at, 206-353-6317 or

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