Expert tips to help you survive (and even love) winter

Motivation to help you eat hearty but healthy food, get outside and keep up those workouts.
(Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images)

Winter has a way of blanketing ambitious goals to work out, stay positive and eat healthily with impenetrable doom and gloom.

But while it's tough to leave the warm cocoon of your home, there are good reasons to get outside — or at least to the gym — and fuel your body with healthy, hearty food during the brutal winter months.

We talk to a registered dietitian, a kinesiology professor, a sports gear spokesperson, a personal trainer and a ski enthusiast about how to make the best of winter.


Hibernation and comfort food go hand in hand. But eating heartily doesn't mean you have to sacrifice health.

"The key to creating a healthier, comforting meal is to replicate textures and flavours by healthier means," says Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian based in Vancouver. "High fat, high sugar choices become a bit of a crutch that work in the short term, but contribute to ongoing lethargy and low energy over time."

To create that healthy and hearty mix, Nielsen suggests opting for a warm breakfast of quick oats sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and hemp seeds or nuts. Main meals could include warm stews loaded with vegetables, roasted root vegetables topped with a drizzle of maple syrup and pasta dishes tossed in creamy cashew-based sauces.

Don't forget, winter is citrus season. Load up on clementines, lemons and oranges for extra doses of vitamin C.


Don't just sit there. 

Physical activity can be divided into two groups: structured, referring to activities such as going to the gym for regular exercise, and unstructured, such as gardening, walking the dog and cutting the grass, says Robert Ross, a professor in the school of kinesiology and health studies at Queen's University. Structured exercise is relatively easy to maintain during winter months, but unstructured outdoor activity is quickly derailed by bad weather.

Ross recommends people find alternative ways of moving during the winter months, such as walking in the mall or taking a 20-minute walk around the block. Really, anything to get you moving.

"Improving your fitness level doesn't require athleticism or epic amounts of exercise," he said, noting people should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week. "Doing that 20 to 30 minutes (of exercise), four, five, six times a week is associated with tremendous health benefits… You feel better about yourself."


Find yourself making excuses for why you can't exercise but still watching hours of Netflix a night?

Find a group of people or a friend to hold yourself accountable to a fitness routine, suggests Megan Trewartha-Ledingham, a personal trainer and owner of Sweet Cheeks Fitness in Toronto. She finds the clients who come to her boot camp classes feel encouraged to go because they know others will notice they're missing — and because they've already paid, she said.

"When you pay for a program, you're more likely to come out of hibernation mode and come to classes," she said. "I hear a lot (of clients saying) once they're home they don't want to leave again. They do because they've joined the class."

But ultimately, the best person to keep yourself accountable is yourself.

"The best advice — I'm going to steal from Nike — just do it," said Trewartha-Ledingham. "At the end of the day you decide if you're going to work out or if you're not… There's no magical solution."


For some, the worst part of winter is feeling unfashionable.

"There's too many times we can think of when you've gotten dressed and you love everything head to toe and then you put on your jacket and … you race to a meeting and you rip off your jacket," says Jenna Larson, director of purchasing with Live Out There, an online outdoor apparel and gear retailer based in Calgary. "It doesn't fit with (your look)."

Retailers now understand that warmth can also look chic, meaning there are more options that are both practical and stylish, she said. You don't have to wear a ski jacket around all day if you don't want to.

But the true secret to staying warm? Layering.

Larson recommends starting with a wool base layer to wick away wetness, then adding a second upper layer that's down-filled, or synthetic down-filled, to keep you insulated, and an outer shell made from a fabric such as Gore-Tex to keep you waterproof.

As for boots, stick with something waterproof and insulated with a good tread, such as Sorel boots, she said.


What better way to embrace winter than to immerse yourself in nature?

"The snow sliding under your feet, the wind rushing past your face and the majesty of the mountains takes your breath away," says Sarah Morden, a public relations coordinator with Whistler Blackcomb. "Being more in touch with the environment by getting out and experiencing it is a fantastic way to combat the winter blues."

Even if you don't have access to a mountain, find a park, get outside and go for a stroll.

The easiest way to embrace winter is to face the elements head on.

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. You can find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.