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You may have enjoyed an extra hour in bed yesterday with the clocks turning, but research shows that losing an hour of daylight can be linked to negative effects on both the mind and body, including disturbed sleep patterns, seasonal depression and obesity. However, just because it is time for the clocks to fall back, doesn't mean you should fall back into your old habits; here are some ways you can maintain a good routine in your life so that you can be prepared for the seasons ahead!
Both the amount and quality of sleep have been shown to be important for mental and physical health. Disturbed sleep is associated with depression, memory impairments, cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk factors, such as diabetes and heart disease, obesity and an impaired ability to fight infections. Although an hour change may not seem like much, misalignment between your natural internal clock and your required sleeping and waking schedule can still occur, which has been shown to increase risk factors for mood disorders and serious illnesses. So, clearly, sleep is important for your health while also for the success of your weight loss journey.
Lack of sleep increases stress, which in turn makes cortisol levels spike, leading to weight gain. This is because cortisol breaks down lean muscle (the type of tissue which helps burn calories more efficiently) and holds onto fat stores, especially in the abdominal region. Losing sleep can alter your cortisol levels and insulin sensitivity, so you have a great reason to stay in bed a little longer. You should also keep your stressors away from your bedroom and reserve your sleeping area solely for rest and relaxation. To ensure you sleep well you should also avoid caffeine and alcohol. Although alcohol may bring on sleepiness, the quality of sleep you will get will be impaired so you will not feel as rested, even after a full 8 hours.
The reduced daylight hours in the fall and winter can also lead to obesity and chronic illnesses through a lack of exercise, as people are more inclined to stay indoors when it gets darker earlier, and the increasingly cold mornings aren’t very enticing either. Whether it’s a case of not being able to face getting out of a toasty warm bed, or choosing a night on the sofa instead of a run in the dark, you really should make the effort to keep up your routine, otherwise these bad choices will become bad habits.
The more you put off exercise in favor of time in bed or on the sofa, the worse it will be – you don’t want the scales to start creeping back up again after all your hard work throughout the summer! Plus, exercise will help you feel more energetic, help you sleep better, and regular exercise also lifts your mood and helps to get rid of those winter blues. However, you may need to adjust your routine to the changes in temperature and light as fall turns into winter. You might try joining a gym, exercising at home, or if you are heading outside to exercise in colder weather, it’s better to do it during the day when it’s light and a little warmer. If there’s no way for you to change when you can exercise, make sure you’re warm and safe when you head out, by wearing layers and reflective clothing, and if you ride a bike you should check your lights.
Keep fresh healthy food on hand to help you feel energized during daylight savings time. With long winter days ahead of us, it’s so easy and convenient to turn to comfort foods that are often high in fat and sugar. Also, while salads are an easy healthy choice in the summer, generally you’ll prefer more warming food in the winter, so make sure you have a few healthy recipes on hand to make stews and soups with lots of seasonal vegetables.
If you feel that dark, cold weather may be affecting your mood, you’re probably right. Health experts report that people generally feel happier, more energetic and have lower sickness rates in the longer and brighter days of summer, whereas their mood tends to decline during the shorter and duller days of winter. Women in particular feel seasonal changes the most, and are almost twice as likely to suffer from a depressive condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where symptoms include low energy, carb cravings, weight gain and reduced sex drive. To avoid feeling the winter blues, a good tip is to replace your normal lights with super bright white bulbs, which can elevate your serotonin levels. Also try to get outside as much as possible to make the most of the daylight while it’s there, so why not go for a walk at lunchtime and get in some exercise at the same time?
Lack of sunlight also means that those of us living in the northern hemisphere often lack vitamin D in the fall and winter, as the sun is the best natural source of vitamin D. This vitamin is important for your health and your weight loss, as it counteracts the secretion of cortisol, plus it boosts your mood and gives you more energy so you feel like working out. You can boost your vitamin D levels by taking cod liver oil and eating foods such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs, and fortified cereals.
Do you feel more prepared to take on the dark days of winter? What is your experience at this time of year, and what are your tips for avoiding the darkness blues? Let us know by commenting below!