So long, summer. Hello, fall.
As summer gives way to fall, it’s time to get ready for shorter days, cooler temperatures 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. Consuming the seasonal produce that makes this season so tasty. And celebrate the holidays like a health pro — by enjoying foods without overindulging.
Here are 13 tips on how to have a healthy autumn:
Get the COVID-19 vaccine — and wear a mask.
In several states with low vaccination rates, COVID-19 is surging again, straining health care workers. One thing you can do to help them — and safeguard your own health during the fall and beyond — is to get vaccinated. “As we continue to work through these COVID surges in our population, we must remain diligent with the things that work,” says Dr. Gary Mennie, chief medical officer of the Medical Center of Southeast Texas in Port Arthur.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent hospitalization. For example, people between the ages of 65-74 who are vaccinated are 88% to 96% less likely to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are vaccinated are also far less likely to contract COVID-19 and to die from it, Mennie says.
Masks, regular hand-washing and practicing social distancing are also effective measures to blunt the spread of COVID-19.
Take the 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 CDC, getting a flu shot is the most important step you can take to shield yourself from the virus. And no, no, no, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
“When it comes to warding off the flu and COVID-19 this fall, preventative measures can go a long way,” says Dr. Phillip Kadaj, an internal medicine specialist based in Midland, Michigan. He’s a medical expert on JustAnswer, an online platform that connects people in real time with doctors, lawyers, vets, mechanics and other verified and vetted experts for immediate, personalized assistance on a 24/7 basis. “Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer when needed, wear a mask when in indoor public places and try to avoid large crowds in tight quarters unless absolutely necessary.”
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? An autumn favorite: Pumpkins. They’re high in beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. In turn, vitamin A helps strengthen your immune system.
Think beyond pies and jack-o’-lanterns.
Sure everyone gets excited for pumpkin spice coffee drinks in the fall, but did you know pumpkin itself is truly a fall super food? Packed with vitamins A, C and E as well as potassium and fiber, it’s incredibly versatile, says Maggie Michalczyk, a Chicago-based registered dietitian and author of “The Great Big Pumpkin Cookbook.”
“Grab a can of pumpkin and whip up some cozy and nutritious comfort food for the season,” she says.
Fresh pumpkins are great too, and not just the flesh. Remember, “don’t toss those pumpkin seeds,” she says. “Pumpkin seeds are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber and magnesium. Roast the ones you get from your pumpkins or sprinkle the green ones (pepitas) on a salad.”
Sign out of Facebook and get outside.
Spending too much time on Facebook and other social media platforms can have a detrimental effect on your psychological health, according to a meta-analysis published in 2020 in the journal Cureus. Reading others’ social media posts can give you the impression that everyone else’s life is better, more interesting and more exciting than your own. That can trigger feelings of sadness.
The fall is a great time to spend more time outside. The leaves are bright on the trees and satisfyingly crunchy under your feet. The (usually) moderate temperatures are a reprieve from the sweltering summer and a gift before the frigid winter. Spending time outside has tremendous health benefits, including boosting your immune system, Kadaj says. In addition to improving mental health, sun exposure bolsters vitamin D levels, which help prevent infections.
And while you’re outside, get in a workout.
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.
Instead of denying yourself completely, moderate your intake, advises Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. “Avoid labeling foods as good or bad, and aim to have only a few pieces of candy, balancing this with healthy meals for the day. Instead of focusing on candy, create a new tradition surrounding an activity and experience the healthy treat of creating new family memories.”
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. You can enjoy Halloween while keeping your sugar consumption in check. “After all, Halloween is meant to be scary and fun, but you should never be afraid to have some treats,” Jones says.
Eat like an athlete — not a couch potato — on game day.
Millions of people spend part of Thanksgiving and other fall days watching football — and munching on snacks like potato chips, fried wings and pizza.
Try these healthy foods instead:
— Raw veggies and dip.
— Fresh fruit.
— Hard-boiled eggs.
— Roasted chickpeas.
— Homemade trail mix.
— Veggies and hummus.
Consume in-season veggies.
Fall is a great time to enjoy in-season, healthy vegetables.
Fall vegetables include:
— Brussels sprouts.
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.
Regardless of whether you cook, you have control over the portions that you enjoy on Turkey Day, Jones says. Start with an attitude of gratitude and be mindful.
Here are strategies for eating healthier on Thanksgiving:
— Prioritize protein (like turkey, with light or no gravy).
— Reduce the butter on your bread.
— Remove the turkey skin.
— Opt for white meat versus dark meat.
— Go slow or low on salad dressing.
— Plan for pie and take only one small piece; buy no-sugar-added pie filling.
Eat 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 and vice president of nutritional science at Sensei Ag, a company that works to make tasty, nutritionally relevant meals accessible and affordable to all consumers. 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.
Use your vacation time.
With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting opportunities to travel, vacation time has built up for many people, including plenty of workers who are laboring from home. “Being out of the office and being on vacation are two different things,” says Cora B. Richter, the New York City-based clinical director at Rappore, which provides in-network, individualized mental health care. Rappore says it offers a “comprehensive approach to telehealth care.”
“Having actual vacation time is still important, even when you are staying home. Everyone needs time to unplug and fully decompress, and vacation time is vital for that,” she says. Even if you don’t feel comfortable traveling, you could spend quality time with friends and family, whether that be in person, virtually or over the phone.
Ideally, we’re giving all year long, 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. Visiting older people in a nursing home might be complicated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you can always make a phone call or send a card or gift. Try to give someone a break every day. For example, don’t honk at a driver who butts into your lane.
To recap, here are 13 ways to have a healthier fall:
— Get the COVID-19 vaccine — and wear a mask.
— Take the flu shot.
— Steer clear of the common cold, too.
— Think beyond pies and jack-o’-lanterns.
— Sign out of Facebook and get outside.
— And while you’re outside, get a workout.
— Scare off those Halloween candy cravings.
— Eat like an athlete — not a couch potato — on game day.
— Consume in-season veggies.
— Enjoy a healthier Thanksgiving.
— Eat cranberries and persimmons, too.
— Use your vacation time.
— Give back.
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Update 08/31/21: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.