Fall is traditionally a season of change. From the leaves turning, to kids going back to school, autumn presents stricter routines, hunkering down, layering, and sighing a sigh that means, “Well, the fun is over.” For most of us, our bodies change in fall as well. With shorter days and longer nights, our circadian rhythms are altered (people sleep more in autumn than any other season). We may become more anxious due to lack of sunlight or simply because we miss the more relaxed pace of summer. Also, we’re much more likely to gain weight than we were when the weather was warmer.
As a personal trainer and wellness coach, I’ve worked with more people than I could ever count who, in January, start trying to reverse a chain of negative health effects that began the preceding fall. When they describe their recent history, it’s always more or less the same: they ended August feeling good after a vacation, eating out of the garden and biking around with the kids, then…September started and healthy choices began to slip. Now, as fall begins, consider this: upon the new year, would you like to be working to undo all the poor health choices you’ve made in the last 3-4 months? Or, would you like to plan ahead now, choose a healthy diet with exercise and head into the new year with nowhere to go but up?
I hope the choice is easy. The work isn’t, but it’s better than the alternative. Here are some tips to help conquer the worst challenges facing your health before the calendar flips over again.
Stockpile Healthy Behaviors in September and October.
These two months before the holidays are an invaluable opportunity to make fitness and nutrition gains. This is the time to be highly disciplined. Many of us get caught up in work, getting the kids settled at school, vacation recovery and other excuses. Before we know it, we have the excuse of Thanksgiving. Instead, we need to use whatever physical activity gains made during summer as a base for greater fitness. We must “hit the fall running”, no pun intended, and we must have a plan, both for physical activity and food. This plan could be extremely detailed, highlighting minutes per week of cardio and caloric intake. Or, it could include more simple directives like my favorites here: 1. Healthy Food, Moderate Portions ALWAYS; 2. Daily Movement, 45 Minutes or More; 3. Checkmark on the Calendar Every Day of Success with 1 and 2. Continue your routine in November and December, adapting it to allow for the busier nature of the holidays, but drawing on the habits you’ve already made. Break reasonably to celebrate the holidays because you earned those breaks months ago.
Make the Traditions Healthier.
Who says Thanksgiving doesn’t mean running a 5k in the morning and laying out a full scale smoothie bar? Wouldn’t Christmas be more lively with family line-dancing? By the very engrained nature of traditions—they take root over time—a new tradition may take some getting used to. That’s why you need to start thinking and acting now. Ask for the support of your loved ones in brainstorming ideas, take the lead starting a group email and see what happens.
When You Get Stressed, Exercise MORE.
The biggest excuse I hear people use for not exercising is that they were too busy and stressed to do it. Yet, this is exactly when you need it most! Do it and you will return to your duties sharper, better, and likely to be more productive. Avoid lying to yourself that exercise will mean you must sacrifice something else. Long-term, exercise will always be a win-win.
Safeguard a Positive Attitude.
The “September Blues” are real. Recognize it and be ready before you’re on the couch slumped over a bag of chips. Mindfulness is your key to safeguarding a healthy outlook. The moment you feel a bad mood creeping in, acknowledge it. Hey, bad mood, I feel you. Then take care of you and your bad mood like you would parent a baby. Figure out what you need. A nap? A walk? Someone to rub your back? There are lots of comforting things we reach for to make us feel “better”—a beer, a cigarette, a pint of ice cream—but if you wouldn’t give these things to a baby, then don’t give them to yourself!