Running on empty

Learn how to keep your energy up all winter long

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Are you dragging your heels under the mammoth weight of your winter coat? Beat the cold-weather blahs with these easy energy boosters.

You probably don’t give it much thought, but you automatically take 20,000 breaths a day. And, if you’re not doing it properly – because, like right now, you’re slouched in front of the computer – you’re depriving your body of essential oxygen. Oxygen equals energy, so sit up straight and try this: draw the outside of your shoulders away from one another and deeply inhale and exhale through your nose. “Good posture allows you to take a bigger, fuller breath and breathing through your nose is a cleaner way to breathe,” explains Cynthia Funk, co-director of Toronto’s The Yoga Sanctuary. To see if you’re doing it right, place your thumbs facing forward on your waist at the lower ribs and wrap the rest of your fingers around your back. Breathe deeply trying to push your ribs into your hands. You should feel your lungs expanding.

Rising before the sun can get you down. Many Canadians suffer from “winter doldrums,” explains Dr. Michael Terman, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and coauthor of a recent study that reports that simulating the dawn using different technologies can help curb the winter blues. As a first step, Terman recommends 30 minutes of bright light therapy when you wake up. While reading your morning paper, turn on the Day-Light (a light box that costs US$199.95 at the Centre for Environmental Therapeutics). Mimicking sunlight when it’s still dark outside fools your internal clock into thinking its time to go, go, go!

“The most energizing essential oils are grapefruit, peppermint and rosemary,” says Mindy Green, Clinical Aromatherapist for Aveda. For an aromatic lift, add about five drops of oil to your bath water or body lotion. Better yet, double your sensory pleasure by eating grapefruit, peppermint and rosemary. You’ll enjoy their smell while reaping added health benefits. Here’s how:

• Peel and enjoy the tangy taste and fresh smell of a grapefruit to wake the senses. You can also enjoy it as freshly squeezed juice or in a salad. Added bonus: A grapefruit packs a daily dose of vitamin C, giving your immune system an extra boost.
• Breathe in the aroma of an uplifting cup of peppermint tea or chop the leaves and use them in cucumber salad. Added bonus: Peppermint improves digestion.

Don’t hibernate in the gym or (worse) on the sofa during the winter months. Beat your winter exercise rut and create some heat in the cold. Besides being invigorating and beneficial to your overall health, outdoor winter activity releases endorphins – mood improving chemicals that increase energy levels and may even help ease depression. Try these cool winter sports:

• Tobogganing – Relive the fun of your childhood by heading for the local sled site. Trekking up the hill will increase your heart rate and strengthen your derrière.
• Snowshoeing – There’s no reason to give up your walking routine during the winter months. Don’t worry, the days of strapping beavertail-shaped and sized footwear with woven leather webbing to your feet are long gone. In their place are modern, lightweight metal shoes that make trekking through the snow fun and easy. What’s more, you’ll get double the workout – you burn twice as many calories snowshoeing compared with walking. And, if you add poles to the mix, you’ll gain stability and an upper body workout too.
• Cross-Country Skiing – A total body workout, almost anyone can cross-country ski. If you’re just starting to workout or are a cardio-junkie (runners, this means you!) strap on a pair of skis. You can change the intensity of your workout simply by varying your speed and chosen course – a little uphill battle will get the blood pumping.

Eating rich fatty foods, such as chips or french fries, can leave you sluggish. “You spend a lot of energy digesting and processing heavy, rich or fatty foods. This can leave you feeling tired,” explains Vancouver Registered Dietitian Patricia Chuey. Instead, she suggests reaching for “clean” foods, such as apple wedges and a few whole almonds, that won’t leave your fingers – or insides – feeling greasy. At 4 pm when you’ve lost your oomph and are tempted to hit the vending machine, go for a yummy and nutritious alternative. A tall Starbucks Vanilla Crème, for instance, using nonfat milk and no whipped cream has only 180 calories and 35 per cent of your recommended daily calcium. Other options Chuey suggests:

• A few baby carrots dipped in hummus
• A small oatmeal and raisin cookie and a glass of milk
• Fruit salad with a bit of cottage cheese
• A few gourmet whole grain crackers or a moderate slice of grainy bread with cheese
• Strawberries or any fruit dipped in a French Vanilla yogurt
• Half a bagel with crunchy peanut butter

For even more high-energy food ideas, check out our Energy-boosting meal plan.