11 Healthy Activities to Beat the Winter Blues

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When fall brings golden hues and winter brings stunning snowy scenes, we often find ourselves planning for family gatherings and spending a little extra time curled up next to a warm fire. But as the seasons change, so can our moods, no matter where you call home.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons — typically starts in late fall and early winter. Some symptoms include feeling depressed, decreased energy, and having trouble sleeping.

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Where you live plays a role in your chances of experiencing SAD. According to research, 9 percent of people who live in New England or Alaska suffer from SAD, while it only affects 1 percent of those in Florida.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to boost your mood. If you're not feeling quite like yourself, make sure you talk to your doctor. Here are some other ways to stay physically, mentally, and socially well when you have the winter blues:

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1. Try tai chi

This nonimpact, slow-motion exercise originated in China. It involves a series of motions named for animal actions that can help improve flexibility, balance, and muscle strength. You don't have to be in top physical shape to do it. In fact, tai chi can easily be adapted if you're in a wheelchair or recovering from surgery. Plus, there's a growing body of evidence that shows tai chi has value in treating or preventing many health problems.

2. Practice mindfulness

There are many benefits of practicing mindfulness, from reducing stress and anxiety to helping you sleep better. What exactly is mindfulness? It's paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity. In other words, it's pausing to check in with yourself, and to connect with and appreciate what's going on around you.

3. Grow an indoor garden

Gardening can be very therapeutic. It can help lessen stress, boost self-esteem, and provide mental clarity. Just because the ground is frozen doesn't mean you have to put your gardening hobby on hold. There are many plants that can grow indoors during the harsh winter months. With the right tools and equipment, you can grow carrots, sprouts, mushrooms, kale, peppers, and peas, just to name a few. Herbs like oregano, chives, rosemary, thyme, and parsley also do well indoors.

4. Cook a healthy meal

There's nothing better than cozying up with a warm meal when it's cold outside. But it can be hard to find comfort foods that are healthy for you. Consider cooking in a slow cooker. You can find healthy recipes like turkey chili, vegetable soups, and hearty stews that require minimal effort. Look for low-sodium recipes that include lots of veggies.

5. Dive into a new book

Reading is not only a great way to unwind and de-stress, but it can also help you improve your memory and stay mentally sharp. If the font size in paperback and hardcover books strain your eyes, consider getting a tablet or e-reader. A great way to connect with others is by joining a book club. Your community might have one, or you can even join an online book club.

6. Create an at-home spa day

Who says bubble baths are just for kids? Add essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus to your bath and experience the soothing and relaxing qualities of these oils. Stay hydrated by sipping on spa water by simply cutting up cucumbers and adding them to a large pitcher of water. And get into Zen mode with a seven-minute meditation. It's important to treat yourself.

7. Get crafty with your grandkids

Remember paper snowflakes? There are so many fun holiday crafts that are simple and low-cost, such as pine cone ornaments, tinsel trees, or tissue paper wreaths. Start channeling your inner Picasso by looking online for ideas. Or just get some colorful paper and washable paints and let your grandkids go to town.

8. Plan a game night

Your social health is just as important as your physical and mental health. Invite your friends, family, or neighbors over for board games like Trivial Pursuit, Yahtzee, and Scrabble. Card games are great for larger groups — try rummy, bridge, or cribbage, just to name a few. Have everyone bring over a healthy appetizer or snack to share.

9. Volunteer in your community

When's the last time you volunteered? You might remember how good it felt afterwards. It's a great way to get involved in your community. And the benefits are endless. From improving your social well-being and boosting your mood to giving you purpose — volunteering is good for your body, mind, and spirit.

10. Keep a journal

Writing relieves stress and can help you organize your emotions, thoughts, and to-do lists. You don't have to be a great writer to start a journal. All you need is a pen and paper. Start by writing down what you did that day or make a list of things you're grateful for. Or maybe you have some goals you'd like to set. Whatever's on your mind is fair game.

11. Take a class

It's never too late to learn something new. Take a cooking or an art class. Try a new language. There are so many opportunities to expand your knowledge. Taking a class is also a great way to meet new people. You'll feel a great sense of accomplishment, too. If you can't find a class near you, try an online course. You can do it right from the comfort of your home.

Amy Capomaccio is a health care writer at Aetna with experience in senior wellness, Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial health care. When she's not practicing new mindfulness techniques, Amy is spending time outdoors and traveling. Amy hails from Wakefield, MA and has a degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Tampa.

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Monday-Friday 8am to 6pm CT
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