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Despite shorter days, colder weather, we can still be active

You know fall and winter are approaching when ... golden leaves emerge, you leave 10 minutes early to get ahead of the school bus, shadows lengthen, you’re shopping for firewood, it’s pumpkin spice everything and your fitness tracker must be broken. How else do you explain the declining step count?

Once again, roasted vegetables and slow-cooked meat sound appealing. Chicken pot pie is on the brain. And apple pie, which frankly never loses its appeal, still sounds delightful.

I must remind myself that I’m not going into hibernation. I do not need to store energy for the long winter months ahead. But inconveniently, the changes in temperature and light tell my brain otherwise.

As outside temperatures drop, the appetite hormone, ghrelin, goes up. Ghrelin makes the belly start growling, and the apple pie sounds better every second.

With daylight dwindling, serotonin secretion follows suit. Doesn’t my brain know I need serotonin to appropriately regulate how much I eat? The cards are stacked against me. Between low serotonin and increased ghrelin, my brain is silently encouraging me to sit down and eat the pie. Maybe even the whole pie.

I beg the rational side of my brain to stand up to the primitive side. Stop encouraging me to seek food around every corner! It is my expectation, and hope, that the grocery store will continue to be a food source when the ground is covered in snow. Please brain, you must evolve, and quickly.

Hormones are highly influential, so my rational brain needs a solid plan to help me make healthy choices during seasonal changes. If I start now, it’ll be easier to choose healthy when the holidays threaten to sabotage my good intentions.

Knowing winter encourages sedentary behavior, I’ll focus on physical activity. And for good reason, it also positively impacts happiness.

What does happiness have to do with this? Serotonin, in addition to appetite regulation, functions as a “happy hormone.” The last thing I need is to eat my emotions, while simultaneously lacking the capacity to feel satiated (full). That’s how you end up eating the whole pie.

Despite shorter days and colder weather, I can be active. Problem-solving is the name of the game. Focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. I can layer up and use a headlamp.

Luckily, bears do hibernate. Now the bell and bear spray are for the skunks I may encounter on a dark morning walk. A healthy fear of hungry mountain lions gives me the adrenaline I need to step up the intensity of my exercise. A shout-out to you big kitty, thanks for that!

Between the exercise and the gratitude practice, I just doused myself in serotonin and maybe a little sweat. Turns out it wasn’t that cold after all.

As a bonus, short-term exposure to cold weather can trigger thermogenesis – heat production either through shivering or increased metabolism of brown and beige adipose tissue. Read this as “burning calories”; exactly what I’m looking for in a season prone to greater calorie consumption and less activity.

This fall, I am preparing for a healthier version of myself through increased physical activity. Maybe it’s more steps, more outdoor recreation, sledding with my kids, but hopefully not shoveling. I am happier because I carve out a few minutes of the day to appreciate the little things, like snowblowers. I am content with smaller and healthier portions of food because the former boosts my serotonin levels. Take that, winter.

And you, how will you become the healthy version of yourself this fall and winter?

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nicole.clark@colostate.edu or 382-6461.