In case you don't follow Groundhog Day as closely as I do, you may not know that Staten Island's disgruntled Charles G. Hogg drew blood from NY mayor Bloomberg's hand this year. The rodent reacted to a cold, early morning intervention with a bit more ferocity than usual. During this time of year, I sometimes feel a little like Chuck when I wake up. Staring at my proverbial shadow, I begin to squirm at the thought of another day of gray skies and long underwear. My cravings for sunshine's vitamin D are growing stronger, and I can't wait to shed the winter wear and slip into a pair of shorts!
March is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome month. More than a million Americans suffer from CFS, identified by a series of symptoms that involve tenderness, pain, inability to concentrate, headaches, and non-refreshing sleep. While restlessness or lack of energy is not likely CFS, awareness of this condition provides the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate how we care for our bodies during the winter months. For some of us, our New Year's resolutions have already fallen by the wayside, and stagnant behavior and bad habits have resurfaced. When the winter blues lurk, it's time to find creative ways to revitalize and simulate "sunshine" in our lives.
While CFS is not widely acknowledged or understood in the medical community and its causes remain unknown, doctors recommend a few lifestyle changes to help reduce fatigue; the most prominent symptom. Many of these techniques are employable by anyone looking to increase energy, reduce stress, sharpen focus and concentration, and elevate your mood. You may find you have more time and energy in the day than you thought!
Group fitness classes are a fun and inspiring way to stay active this time of year. Spinning classes can easily transition into an outdoor bicycling adventure in a few weeks. Instructors can help you modify resistance and intensity to match your fitness level. Try closing your eyes and imagine you're cycling through a sunny park as you listen to music. You'll soon feel refreshed and reenergized!
You are what you eat
Junk food consumption can trigger fatigue. Processed food and refined sugars are low in essential nutrients and can be dehydrating. Consuming healthy plant food snacks from natural sources will pull you through the day. While the benefits of organic foods are still controversial, lowered exposure to pesticides and chemicals is thought to reduce symptoms of fatigue in individuals.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, can also cause fatigue. Caffeine overstimulates the body and the nervous system, and can interfere with sleep cycles. Alcohol, a depressant, can additionally contribute to nutrient loss and memory impairment. Though we're always looking for a little pick me up, the previous options are only temporary fixes.
Consistency is key
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every morning. The days are getting longer. Soon you'll no longer take dark morning showers or cook dinner at dusk. Your body will find a natural rhythm that makes fighting through these next few weeks a little easier.
Transition into spring gracefully
Exercise daily. Physical activity elevates your mood, sheds winter weight, and regulates metabolism. If necessary, imagine the fluorescent lights of the gym are radiant sunrays! You will feel stronger and calmer.
Eat many small meals throughout the day. Eating frequently helps regulate blood sugar. Limit intake of sugar, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol. Consume eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Water detoxifies and eliminates waste products and chemicals.
Try a new activity
A cooking class, rock climbing, journaling, or a new local restaurant can challenge you, foster new friendships, and awaken your senses.
Focus on your posture
Open the chest, soften the shoulders, and stretch your hips. A winter slump can manifest itself in your physical body.
Remember many people feel a little antsy this time of year. Any change takes adjustment. Try to prepare your body for summer by getting out of couch potato mode. If you find yourself on edge, take a brisk walk. Enjoy the remaining days of crisp, cool air!
If you can't seem to shake exhaustion or focus no matter the season, check with your doctor to see if underlying health issues or nutritional deficiencies could be causing symptoms.
Special Welcome to:
If you don't know where to start today for your workout, just visit the Exercises menu on FitLink. There is a featured exercise that changes each time you visit this page, complete with photo and description of the exercise. Just click on the name to read full instructions. While you're there, you may be inspired to do a few more exercises for the same body part.
Focus Muscle: Hamstrings
Hamstrings, a set of muscles that extend from your glutes to your knees, are responsible for pulling your heel towards your hip and are major players in sports like running, cycling, and anything involving jumping. The hamstrings are comprised of three major muscles: biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. Strong hamstrings improve your performance as well as make it easier to do simple activities like getting out of a chair. Injured hamstrings are fairly common in several sports and may occur when someone's training strengthens their quadriceps to the point where they become out of balance with the hamstrings, so that a powerful contraction from the quadriceps injures the hamstrings. In order to prevent this, you need to strengthen your hamstrings with a resistance workout 1-2 times each week.
Straining a hamstring, also known as a pulled hamstring, occurs due to an excessive stretch or tear of the muscle fibers. Prevent this by doing a gentle stretch after your warm-up (walking or stationary bike) and a deeper stretch during your workout while your muscles are warm.
This is a great workout to strengthen the hamstrings which often are weaker than the quadriceps and therefore susceptible to injury. Do this workout twice a week: 2 sets of 15 reps should be your goal, adding reps when that becomes easy.
*If you don't have access to a ball, do the Bodyweight Hamstring Workout.
Cut up extra fruit and veggies while you prepare dinner and put them in tupperware or plastic ziploc bags so that you can grab them during the morning and afternoon the next day. It's so much better for you than grabbing a salty or sweet prepackaged food like chips or cookies.
Whole Wheat Energy Bars
These whole wheat homemade energy bars or cereal bars are perfect for a healthy breakfast. They're sweetened with honey and applesauce instead of sugar and packed with healthy high-fiber wheat germ and bran cereal. If you like store-bought granola bars or cereal bars, why not try making your own healthy homemade energy bars? Recipe courtesy of the Wheat Foods Council.
- 1 cup bran flakes cereal
- 1/4 cup wheat bran
- 1/4 cup wheat germ
- 2 Tbsp. Flax seed, milled
- 1 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 cup mixed dried fruit, chopped
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/3 cup dry milk powder
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9 inch pan. In a medium bowl, combine everything except flours and baking soda; blend well. Let set 5 minutes. In large bowl, stir together flours and soda. Stir in the first mixture and mix until all ingredients are combined. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until golden. Cool and slice into bars.
Servings: 20 Bars
Nutrition: One serving (bar) provides approximately: 117 calories; 2 g protein; 21 g carbohydrates; 3 g fat (1 g saturated); 11 mg cholesterol; 2 g fiber; 12 mcg folate; 1 mg iron; 32 mg sodium.