The Hamilton Spectator
This winter, get healthy: eat chocolate
A friend once told me a story about a senior man and his daily chocolate habit.
Rain or shine, he took a daily walk to the candy shop. Once there, he pondered his choices — sea salt and caramel, cappuccino, lemon cream or hazelnut — and picked out a single truffle. Then he went home where, presumably, he savoured his daily treat.
One day, the owner asked him if he was aware that most chocolates last a few days, at the very least. He could save himself a lot of trips if he bought a small assorted box.
His simple reply? “If I did, I wouldn’t have a reason to come here every day.”
Even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I can definitely relate. Every day, I make up reasons to run small errands just to get another walk in, even in the winter. That would surprise a younger me, who was a regional champion in that game called “how many days can I go before I have to leave the house? — always easier to play on days when it’s well below freezing.
Hard to say when that changed, but over time, it became increasingly clear that I felt considerably better after I got outside and moved around a little, even on the coldest days.
Natalie Toman, a certified personal trainer and ParticipACTION health promotion lead, says that, even though most of us know that we can mitigate the winter blues by embracing the great outdoors, it’s still sometimes hard to get motivated. According to a recent survey by ParticipACTION, 52 per cent of Canadians list cold weather as a barrier for getting physical activity throughout the winter.
“We’ve all experienced it,” she said. “We hear minus 30 then look out our window and the motivation just drops.”
At that point, it’s tempting to check out the new releases streaming on the various platforms. Or, instead, start scrolling through the old Insta-feed. The survey found that nearly a quarter of us spend over three hours per day on recreational screen time.
“Our data show that, as recreational screen use increases, we’re spending more time being sedentary, which is being in the reclined or sitting position with little or no movement,” said Toman. “And that’s the biggest risk to our health.”
With three hours a day spent on screens, it should be easy enough to carve out a little time for a brief movement “snack.” Research has shown that just 15 minutes moving around in the great outdoors can make a difference to our mood and stress management.
Sometimes, though, we need a little nudge to get out there. And, to that end, ParticipACTION has designed a free app with challenges designed to get people to break up sedentary routines and get moving. And the first bit of advice we need for breaking up the sit involves knowing how to dress for the polar vortex.
“You have to make sure you’ve got the right gear: a good coat and boots, layers of clothing, the right hat and mitts, and all the things that make you comfortable,” Toman advised. “And then you need to put it right by the front door and in plain sight.
“If it’s buried in a bag in a closet you’re less likely to slip on the coat and go for a walk, so that’s a bit of prep that goes a long way from a behaviour change perspective.”
After that, she says people should consider making dates with friends for walks or whatever, since you’ll be accountable to that other person. If friends are far, maybe there’s a friendly neighbour you like chatting with. During the pandemic, two of my neighbours met every morning to do a two-kilometre walk around a nearby park. One of them used the opportunity to practise her English — city life at its best.
Recreational screen use isn’t only about time spent scrolling, bingewatching and gaming; it’s also about the way we support this lifestyle with deliveries of everything from household essentials to our dinner. But how hard would it be to fetch your dumplings from the local restaurant?
“We rarely order from restaurants that are outside our neighbourhood, because we’re afraid it’s going to take too long for delivery,” Toman said. “But if we actually went down to get it, it would probably take the equivalent time and you wouldn’t have spent that time just sitting on your couch waiting for someone to bring it to you.”
This type of thinking doesn’t only apply to getting food. People might gasp at this deranged behaviour, but I actually deposit cheques in person sometimes, even though I know full well how to use online banking. The bank’s algorithms can’t make any sense of it: It often emails me later to tell me I could have used an app instead of going into my branch.
It’s more convenient, sure. But convenience isn’t always what I want. Toman told me I’m not as crazy as the bank thinks I am.
“All these little connectivity moments, what they call ‘activities of daily living,’ are well researched in the literature,” she said. “We all participate in activities for daily living, but we should maximize them because those are the ones that, when put together and looked at cumulatively, add up to a reduction in sedentary time and an increase in overall physical, mental and social wellbeing.”
So maybe it’s time to embrace inconvenience. Go to the bank in person. Pick up your food yourself. Or make a daily date with a nearby chocolatier and try a new truffle every day.
That doesn’t sound so bad. Might even be worth braving the cold.
It’s time to embrace inconvenience: Go to the bank in person or make a daily date with a local chocolatier and try a new truffle every day. Just get out and get moving