Everybody asks, "Did you have a nice summer?" But nobody ever asks, "Did you have great winter?"
While you're probably already dreaming of returning in July to the beach or the lake house or the cabin you love, you might be overlooking one of the very best times of year. Played right, winter can be a perfect time to relax, recharge, and improve your mind, body, and spirit. Instead of viewing the rest of winter as a time where you're just shivering a lot before the arrival of spring, take it as an awesome opportunity to maximize your health, your fitness, and your social life. Here are 21 fun and inventive ways to put chilling—the good kind—back into the season. Or, if you're anxious to get a jumpstart on that bikini body season, you can always check out these 14 Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days!
Celebrate a National Food Day
Just like you turned Cinco de Mayo into an excuse to gather friends and make margaritas, try doing the same with a national food holiday that is actually healthy, like National Sweet Potato Day on February 22 or National Strawberry Day on February 27. See a longer list for the rest of year with these 50 National Food Holidays for What's Actually Healthy!
Burn Fat Fast and Slow
Whether you're cross-country skiing, hiking, or just walking in the snow, varying your pace can help you burn up to 20 percent more calories, according to engineering researchers at Ohio State University. In fact, as much as 8 percent of the calories you burn during a walk are just from the starting and stopping phase. But we recommend bumping up the burn a little bit more by incorporating these 30 Tips for When You're Walking for Weight Loss.
Plan a Trip
Both planning and anticipating a trip are two of the best, most exciting parts about the actual trip. So, getting something on the books now can pay off immediately—even if your getaway isn't for months! Research actually found that the anticipation of a vacation makes some people happier than the trip itself. This is one of the scientifically proven 30 Ways to Be Happier This Year!
Delegate Shoveling Duties
Just 8 to 10 minutes of exercise three times a week can significantly cut heart disease risk in adolescents, according to a study from the University of Exeter. The researchers had boys and girls ages 13 and 14 do six high-intensity interval exercise sessions over two weeks. The kids worked vigorously for 60 seconds, then rested for 75 seconds. At that rate it may take days to get your whole driveway clean, but at least it will keep your teenagers out of the house. Don't feel guilty about kickin' back; you can watch this video on Video: 10 Steps to Lose 10 Pounds—Fast! to feel more productive.
Eat Like a Viking
This winter, try following the Nordic Diet—it's what Vikings ate in olden times. Hearty rye bread, root vegetables such as parsnips and carrots, game and grass-fed meat, and canola oil are among the diet's staples; a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who followed the diet naturally ate more than 400 calories less per day, and research shows it can lower diabetes risk by as much as 40 percent.
Blow Hot Air
If you have a ceiling fan in your house, it probably sits idle for most of the year, getting called into action only when the weather gets warm. But many fans have a reverse function, which actually pushes hot air back down into your living space. Check to see if there's a reverse switch on yours—it could save you on both heating bills and shivers. But be sure to clean the blades first; if you don't, reversing direction could make a thick layer of dust shower down on your family room!
Get Yourself Chai
When you're looking for a warm-up, this homemade recipe will turn pedestrian black tea into something truly special. Place 8 whole cloves, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, 6 slices fresh ginger, ½ tablespoon black peppercorns, 1 dried bay leaf, and 1 cinnamon stick in 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 7 minutes; remove from the heat, add 4 bags of black tea (preferably Darjeeling), and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain the mixture, return to the pan, then stir in 4 tablespoons brown sugar and 1½ cups milk. Simmer until warmed through. Makes 4 servings. "Too much work?" asks food journalist Kelly Choi, author of The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. "Then at least check out a tea that melts belly fat! You can't ever go wrong with green!"
Don't Get Phubbed
If you're feeling down about your relationship, it may be because you're feeling phubbed. Phubbing,or "partner phone snubbing," occurs when one of you feels neglected when the other is busy checking texts or emails. More than 46 percent of people report feeling snubbed in favor of a partner's cell, and more than 36 percent say it increased their levels of depression, according to a study at Baylor University. Make a pact that the two of you will let each other know before you dive into your phones, and explain why you're doing it and how long you'll need before coming back to the real world.
Beat Fatigue with Beets
Maximize your time on the slopes by ordering the beet salad at lunch. In a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, runners who ate beets an hour before a three-mile race finished the last mile 5 percent faster than the beetless runners. Bonus: Beets are on Eat This, Not That!'s list of 25 Foods People Over 45 Should Eat!
Make Yourself Hotter
People who visited a dry sauna four to seven times a week lowered their risk of dying of heart problems during that time by 48 percent compared with those who went just once a week, according to a recent study conducted in (where else?) Finland.
Cool the Fire with Chocolate
Our levels of inflammation tend to be higher in winter than in summer, thanks to the way our genes behave in different seasons, according to the journal Nature Communications. Researchers found that an inflammation-fighting gene known as ARNTL was more active in summer than in winter. Give your genes a boost with dark chocolate; gut microbes in the digestive system ferment chocolate and, in doing so, produce a compound called butyrate, which helps decelerate the action of genes linked to inflammation. Plus, dark chocolate is one of the 20 Foods That Turn on Your Sex Drive; heating up the bedroom when it's cold out sounds pretty nice, no?
Surf for Fitness
People who joined an online support group of fitness-minded peers were much more likely to get fit and stay fit than those who received coaching or promotional messages, according to a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania.
Humidify to Healthify
The drier the air in your home, the longer flu viruses thrive there, according to research from Virginia Tech. At 50 to 98 percent humidity, the virus doesn't survive for very long outside the body, the researchers report. But when air get drier, it actually preserves the virus like beef jerky; the little buggers then stick around, on your doorknob or in the air, waiting for an invitation to set up camp in your body. A humidifier can help reduce your sick days. If you've already caught something, check out these 7 Foods That Can Relieve Your cold Symptoms.
Build the Perfect Snowman
Sing it with us: "Do you want to build a snowman?"
But seriously: Industrial engineering students at Bluefield State College in West Virginia created a blueprint for a highly stable, perfectly proportioned snowman. Their study suggested that you build your snowy sentinel on a base of at least two inches of wet powder. The base of the snowman should be a three-foot-diameter ball, the center section a two-foot ball, and the head one foot, in order to create a snowman with perfect Frosty-like proportions.
Give Your Decor a Second Look
Our eyes actually see colors differently in summer than they do in winter, according to a 2015 study at the University of York in England. For example, yellows appear slightly less green when the cold weather sets in. Consider buying a new bedspread or set of winter sheets with a color pattern that appeals to you now, not six months ago.
Redo Your Fondue
Most recipes are a cheese-covered heart attack in a pot. (Be sure to steer clear of these 30 Worst Foods For Your Heart!) To get some heart-healthy monounsaturated fats into the mix, fondue as the Israelis do: Combine 2 mashed ripe avocados with 3 teaspoons lemon juice. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with a cut clove of garlic, then pour in ¾ cup dry white wine and light the base burner. When the wine is bubbling, mix in 3 cups grated Edam cheese and stir until melted. Meanwhile, in bowl, mix 2 teaspoons flour and 5 tablespoons sour cream. Add the avocados and the sour cream mixture into the pot and stir until smooth. Now dip some crunchy bread and chunks of bell pepper.
According to researchers at the University of Northumbria, England, smelling rosemary oil can help you remember future events and complete tasks on time. Might as well knock out some to-do's before the nice weather finally hits! You could also incorporate rosemary into one of these 35 Best-Ever Chicken Recipes for Weight Loss.
Have a Pop of Schnapps
Remember that fondue up above? Why not have some wine with that, then follow it up with schnapps? This mix of booze helps to slow digestion, suppressing appetite for longer, according to a study at the University Hospital of Zurich. Intrigued? Then you won't want to miss these 20 Eat This, Not That! Tips for Drinkers.
Upgrade Your Sled
If you're tired of getting stuck in the snow while all the other kids and parents whiz by, consider upgrading your ride. In a test of five different types of sleds, Wall Street Journal reporter Mark Anders found the admittedly luxurious, handcrafted Molson Runner "the most durable, well-made model…we tested." At a retail price of $529.99, it ought to be.
Follow the Sun
The sun goes down earlier in winter, and so should you—it might be the easiest weight-loss opportunity you'll get all year. The earlier your bedtime, the lower your body weight—regardless of how many hours of shut-eye you get, according to a study in the journal Sleep. Make the most of this time with these 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight.
Go Goth with Your Beans and Rice
The most nutritious rice of all is black rice, while the most nutritious of all beans are black beans. In both cases, it's because the darker colors represent higher levels of anthocyanins, plant-based compounds that help fight inflammation. Use black beans and rice as a stark base for brightly colored vegetables and lean meats.