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Jan. 20, 2011 Volume 32, No. 16

Trying something new can help beat the wintertime blues


MU experts share tips for increasing happiness

Frigid weather may seem like a good excuse to avoid workouts, stay inside and overindulge in comfort foods.

But health experts from the University of Missouri have found that incorporating activities and habits that promote health can increase happiness and help ward off the winter blues. 

“A good first step is creating a vision for the future by picturing yourself happy and healthy,” said Karen Sherbondy, MU Extension special projects coordinator for Family Nutrition Education Programs. “This provides a starting point for establishing new behaviors, avoiding negative habits and seeking help from others.”  

Steve Ball, state fitness specialist and associate professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, said even a little exercise in the winter is better than none. He suggests trying new things, such as dance classes, swimming or water aerobics, checking out exercise videos from the library or investing in home fitness equipment.

“Think of things that are enjoyable — spending time with kids, crafts and watching movies — and incorporate physical activity to enhance them,” Ball said. “Plan activity breaks, set a timer and have 5-10 minute relays inside or outside, take a walk around the block during commercials or try games that get everyone moving.”  

Alejandra Gudiño, health educator for HES and MU Extension, says improving your mood can be as easy as wearing bright colors or reading or watching something funny. Laughing reduces stress and increases endorphins. Creating social ties and spending time with family and can boost happiness, improve self-worth and increase sense of purpose.

Ellen Shuster, state specialist for extension, recommends creating new traditions related to healthy eating.

“For example, find healthy recipes online, print a dozen or more and randomly pick one to try each week,” she says.

Sherbondy said making small changes are easier than big changes and can add up over time. “Focus on changing one or two behaviors,” she says. “Once those are mastered, set new goals.”

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