Women's Health: Keep Active During Cold Weather Months

Women's Health
Keep Active During Cold Weather Months
by Douglas H. Kirkpatrick, MD
President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Get more exercise. It's one of the most common healthy life recommendations that physicians give their patients-and for good reason. Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, Type II diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It can improve your ability to perform daily tasks, keep you mentally sharp, and help you avoid injuries.
Unfortunately, fewer than half of Americans get enough exercise. ACOG recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week to lower the risk of chronic disease, 60 minutes on most days of the week to maintain weight, and at least 60 to 90 minutes a day to maintain weight loss. Even if you can't get a full workout in every day, any physical activity will make a difference. Try raking leaves, walking, bicycling, vacuuming, or taking the stairs.
Fight the urge to be a couch potato during the fall and winter months and get active. Remember that exercise can help you:
Boost your immunity. During cold and flu season, exercise can help you dodge the seasonal sniffles. Regular activity appears to boost the immune system, making it easier for your body to handle wintertime bugs. Flu vaccination and frequent hand- washing can also help keep you healthy.
Stave off holiday spread. The average American gains up to two pounds over the holidays-an amount that may seem insignificant on its own. But over the years those pounds add up and can contribute to the 20 to 30 pounds that most Americans gain during adulthood. Exercise can help you balance the number of calories that you eat with the number of calories that you burn, so you can enjoy some treats without the negative consequences.
Have more energy. Late nights, gift shopping, additional social commitments-all of these factors can be a drain on your energy stores. Physical activity can reduce muscle tension and lead to better sleep and more energy.
Reduces stress and improve your mood. The shorter days of fall and winter cause some women to experience seasonal affective disorder, a condition marked by symptoms such as tiredness, irritability, cravings for complex carbohydrates (such as bread and pasta), and depression. For others, a hard day at work or holiday visits with family and friends cause stress and anxiety.
Exercise is one of the best natural antidepressants around and can help relieve stress and anxiety and improve your mood. It can induce a calming effect by raising body temperature and increases blood flow to the brain. Exercise can also help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boost levels of the feel-good hormones, endorphins.
For more information, the ACOG Patient Education Pamphlet "Exercise and Fitness" is available at www.acog.org/publicationspatient_education.