See ya, summer.
Welcome back, short days, crisp air and colorful leaves. Think of the new season as a fresh start to your healthy habits. Stow away the swimsuit and dust off the sweaters for apple picking. Enjoy the seasonal produce that makes this season so tasty. And celebrate the holidays like a health pro — by enjoying foods without overindulging. Here’s how to enjoy your healthiest autumn yet.
Think beyond pies and jack-o-lanterns.
All hail The Great Pumpkin. The pulp of this fall favorite is dense with vitamins A and C, and its tasty seeds, called pepitas, are rich in phytosterols, which may help to lower cholesterol. With all the health benefits of pumpkins, don’t they deserve to be more than a craft project that rots a few weeks later? Try a Google search for recipes for, say, roasted pepitas or pumpkin spread.
Get your flu shot.
Want to spend a week of autumn cooped up at home, suffering from fever, fatigue and aches? Didn’t think so. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season.” And no, no, no, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
And while you’re at it, steer clear of the common cold, too.
Hydrate with tons of water throughout the day, and your immune system will thank you. The foods you eat can also help prevent the cold. Yogurt, with all its probiotic glory, has been shown to boost the immune system, and one serving of seaweed packs more vitamin C than an orange. Another immunity booster? The aforementioned autumn favorite: pumpkins.
Sign out of Facebook, ditch the fall lineup and head outside.
The leaves are bright on the trees and satisfyingly crunchy under your feet. The (usually) moderate temperature is a reprieve from the sweltering summer and a gift before the frigid winter. What better season to throw on a beanie and head outside? Plus, spending time outdoors increases your vitamin D levels, makes you happier and improves your concentration, according to Harvard Medical School.
And while you’re outside, get a workout.
Take in the changing scenery on a run, hike or bike ride. Join an intramural fall sport, such as flag football, soccer or Ultimate Frisbee. Want a workout that’s a little less intense? Consider this: For a 150-pound person, 30 minutes of raking leaves, 30 minutes of planting and weeding and 30 minutes of playing with the little ones each burn roughly 150 calories.
Scare off those Halloween candy cravings.
Maybe don’t swear off every candy corn kernel — where’s the fun in that? Just don’t morph into a sugar zombie. If you buy candy for trick-or-treaters, buy only enough for the kids. And wait until Halloween day to buy the candy, so the in-house sweets aren’t haunting you throughout October. If you buy the candy sooner, keep it out of sight in a cupboard.
Eat like an athlete — not a couch potato — on game day.
“My favorite football player outperformed another skilled athlete. I’ll celebrate his fitness by eating five servings of greasy potato chips!” Not this season. Set out raw veggies and dip instead of chips, and you’ll graze much more healthfully. You can improve game-day favorites by cutting pizza into smaller slices or doling chili into cups instead of bowl-sized portions.
Buy in-season veggies, such as beets, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
Not to mention cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, kale and squash. An abundance of tasty autumn vegetables makes it easy to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet, such as diabetes prevention, hypertension control, heart health and more. Consider roasting fall veggies with just a little oil, salt and pepper.
Enjoy a healthier Thanksgiving.
Start Turkey Day with a protein- and fiber-packed breakfast, which will boost metabolism and help prevent sugar cravings. Then make a plan before the big meal, Glassman adds. Don’t mindlessly grab heaps of every dish available. Think through which you could do without, and which you really want — and for the latter, practice portion control.
Ideally, we’re giving yearlong, but what better reminder to boost our good deeds than Thanksgiving? Giving takes many forms, big and small, so the possibilities are endless. Give your co-workers a sweet surprise by bringing treats to share. Give older people some attention by visiting them at the nursing home. Simply give your fellow driver a break by letting him merge into your lane.
Enjoy cranberries and persimmons, too.
Everyone knows fall is a great time to enjoy fruits like apples and pears. Be sure to also add tangy and healthy cranberries and sweet persimmons to your fall fruit choices, says Jenna Bell, a registered dietitian based in St. Petersburg, Florida. She’s the co-author of the book “Energy To Burn: The Ultimate Food And Nutrition Guide To Fuel Your Active Lifestyle.” Persimmons will contribute fiber and vitamin C to your diet, while cranberries provide other health benefits. “Cranberries are packed with unique polyphenols called proanthocyanidins — or PACs,” Bell explains. PACs help protect your urinary tract; research suggests that cranberry juice, for example, helps prevent recurring urinary tract infections. Cranberries are also good for your heart and a solid source of antioxidants, which play a role in preventing chronic diseases by protecting healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are associated with diseases like cancer.
Develop a new set of fitness goals.
Think of the fall as your “second chance January,” advises Erin Clifford, a wellness coach based in Chicago. She notes that some people gain more weight during the summer than they do over the shorter holiday season. “Thus, I always encourage individuals to wipe the slate clean and set new goals that they can accomplish by the end of the year,” Clifford says. “For instance, if you want to lose weight, be specific about how much you want to lose and what diet and exercise plan you are going to utilize to accomplish your goal. The change of season is always the perfect time to make changes happen in your life.” If you accomplish those goals, you’ll be in a great place to begin the new year with a brand new set of goals.
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Update 10/10/18: This slideshow was originally published on Sept. 25, 2013. It has been updated.