Many of us may feel a little too hefty after weeks of seasonal feasting and merrymaking. But Old Man Winter also may share a slice of the blame for our weight gain at this time of year and beyond.
Packing on a pound or two, maybe even five, may be more common at this time of year than many realize, researchers say. Blame it not only on drinking and eating with friends for the holidays. It also may be due to our increased sedentary behaviors due to cold and stormy weather. As the Washington Post reported:
“On average, research shows that people gain one to two pounds over the winter months. For instance, a study of 195 people at the National Institutes of Health found weight gain of about one pound between late September and March. A study of 248 U.S. military personnel, who were enrolled in a weight-loss program, found that people added about two pounds from fall to winter. Here’s something else. There also is evidence that American adults gain one to two pounds each year, gradually accumulating weight over decades. Winter weight gain may be a major culprit, so perhaps we should view the season as a particularly risky time for adding excess padding. Indeed, 165 subjects in the NIH study returned for a September weigh-in and, on average, were 1.4 pounds heavier than the year before. A note: One to two pounds on average means that some people don’t gain any weight while others gain five pounds or more. And in a rude twist of fate, the people who gain the most are more likely to be already overweight or obese.”
Now, gyms and athletic clubs may be jammed in the next few weeks with those hearty souls who made new year resolutions to be fitter and less fat. But experts say it is key to remember that habits, including bad ones, take time to change — and this includes deciding to eat less and move more.
It is important to not just throw yourself into activity, but also to reduce your eating. At this time of year, of course, the two may be more linked than anyone would like to admit: Cooped up the house by gray and icy conditions, we may snack more, gulping down empty calories, too may over processed foods, and consuming excess salt, sugar (especially sweet drinks and sugary snacks), alcohol, and other stuff that’s just not good for us. Cut the bad stuff out or at least reduce the consumption of them. Get a bathroom scale and weigh yourself daily. Portion control matters, too.
And remember: Fitness fads may come and go. But it is most important of all just to keep moving. As the New York Times reported:
“[A] recurring concern of exercise science this decade has been whether and how exercise reshapes aging, and the results generally suggest that it does — and pervasively. In various recent studies, active older people’s muscles, immune systems, blood cells and even skin appeared biologically younger, at a molecular level, than those of sedentary people. Their brains also tended to look and work differently. In what may be, for me, the most inspiring area of fitness research from the past decade, scientists have found and reaffirmed the extent to which movement, of almost any kind and amount, may remake how we think and feel. In one study after another, physical activity beneficially remodeled the brains of children and the middle-aged; lowered people’s risks for dementia or, if dementia had already begun, slowed memory loss; and increased brain volume, tissue health and the quality of connections between neurons and different portions of the brain. Exercise also seems able to buoy moods far more than most of us, including scientists, might have expected 10 years ago. In observational studies, physically active people proved to be much less likely to develop depression or anxiety than sedentary people, no matter what types of activities they chose. Walking, jogging, gardening, weight training, swimming, biking, hiking or even rising from an office or living room chair often and strolling across the room seemed to make people happier and less prone to mood problems than remaining still.”
So, figure ways to get and keep mobile. Take the stairs at the office instead of the elevator. Maybe stroll the enclosed mall (leave the money and credit cards to avoid the temptation of needless buying). Make it a point to see more than a few art shows and exhibits at the many, expansive museums and galleries in Washington, D.C. Think whether the kids or maybe Fido (or even the tabby) and you can bundle up enough and trundle around the block or more, weather be darned. And, of course, hit the gym or health club. Why not?
By the way, while you’re moving and mingling, safeguard yourself from infection: It’s not too late to get that flu shot and other vaccinations, as recommended. Cover your mouth if you’re coughing, wash your hands — thoroughly and often. If you’re ill, do yourself and everyone around you, and please stay home. Keep those ailing youngsters at home, too.
In my practice, I not only see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the big advantages they may enjoy by staying as healthy as possible — and far out of the reaches of the U.S. health care system. It is fraught with medical error, preventable hospital acquired illnesses and deaths, and misdiagnoses.
Too many Americans, alas, could go a long way to being healthier by dealing with their excess weight. Obesity, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found, affects roughly 40% of U.S. adults or 93 million people.
Common sense and a sizable body of research indicates that people benefit their health by taking some key steps, including by eating healthfully and controlling their weight, by moving lots, not smoking or vaping, and not abusing alcohol or drugs (illicit and prescription). Sleep matters a lot, too.
As a new year and new decade kicks in, here’s hoping you and yours have a healthy 2020 and beyond!