Tuesday, December 20, 2016

9 Primal Things to Appreciate about the Winter Season

Inline_9_Primal_Things_to_Appreciate_about_the_Winter_SeasonWinter has come. That means different things to people based on their climate, but I’m of the opinion that winter is relative. You’d be right that the “cold” I face isn’t as objectively dangerous or unpleasant as the cold people in New York, Ottawa, Chicago, Warsaw, or Stockholm face. What’s cold to me in Malibu is short-sleeve weather in my native Maine—but it’s still cold to me today! “Feeling cold” is the defining characteristic.

Today, I’m going to tell you why you should appreciate and enjoy the cold season.

Feeling uncomfortable

Discomfort is a good thing. Our ancestors were frequently uncomfortable. Discomfort weeded out the unfit and made us who we are today. Those with a beneficial response to physical discomfort were more likely to pass on their genes. We are the product of those people, and exposing ourselves to uncomfortable situations and sensations will probably improve our health and overall resilience, too.

Cold weather provides an easy opportunity for feeling uncomfortable. You just go outside in light clothing and wait for the chill.

The best part, besides making you tougher? Feeling uncomfortable makes comfort feel even better.

Having the wilderness all to yourself

People hate the cold. Use the fact that people hate the cold to your advantage. Every time I go for a hike in sub 50° weather, I’m mostly alone. People are by and large wimps. It’s great.

If you’re worried about being outside in the cold (and believe me, the wilderness takes away about 10°!), don’t be. Once you get moving, you quickly forget the temperature. Your body revs up, and you start sweating. You’ll probably start peeling off articles of clothing. Whatever you do, don’t dress to the ambient temperature. That quickly becomes irrelevant.

The abundance of cold plunge opportunities

Everyone should cold plunge on a regular basis. I’ve been doing it every night for several years now, and I don’t think I could manage without them. It’d be pretty hard to give up:

  • The enhanced recovery. After a day of particularly vigorous training or playing, I’m ready to go the next day—as long as I cold plunge.
  • Reduced DOMS, even after a heavy day.
  • Less joint pain. My arthritis is a thing of the past, but the lingering, nagging pains I’d still suffer from time to time have completely disappeared.
  • Better sleep. A cold plunge at night drops my body temperature and gets me ready for bed.

Any body of water you encounter will be cold. Outdoor swimming pools usually have the heaters off in winter—jump in! The cold water in your shower will be far colder during the winter than at any other time—time to try a contrast shower! Heck, you can turn on a garden hose, strip down to your skivvies, and douse yourself in a reliably cold stream of water if it’s winter.

Improvements to your waistline

Winter is famously bad for the waistline. You bounce from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas, pounding various permutations of grain dust, sugar, and oil. Some evidence suggests that we gain more weight during the holidays than any other time of the year. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Cold exposure activates brown fat, the metabolically active adipose tissue that increases energy expenditure in order to keep you warm. Brown fat is like keeping a burner on low. It won’t heat you up enough to sweat, but it will provide a low level of adaptation to the cold and help you replace indoor heating, the use of which seems to parallel the increase in obesity.

According to one study, exposing yourself to cool weather (60°F) for just 2 hours a day for six weeks while wearing light clothing increases energy expenditure and reduces overall body fatness. That’s really easy to do. Leave the heat off. Skip the jacket when you go outside. Run shirtless through the woods. It’s not even that cold. 

My favorite way to expose myself to ambient cold is to go for shirtless walks or hikes. I don’t have any weight to lose, but it feels great—and I bet shirtless or tanktopped walks would do wonders for those of you who do have extra weight.

Hyggeing it up

The Nordic countries might get the most attention for their fantastic social outcomes, impressive education systems, and profound mythology, but I’m partial to the Danish concept of hygge.

Hygge doesn’t have a perfect corollary in English. It means wintry coziness, togetherness, group-based comfiness. Hygge is drinking hot cocoa around a fire. It’s snuggling in with a good book. It’s most similar to our idea of “holiday cheer,” only it lasts all year long.

I’m calling it now: Hygge can be huge.

Winter sports

I go snowboarding every year. But I have to travel to do it. It’s a pain, but I still make it happen. That’s how much I cherish skimming across the snow while standing on a board.

Winter sports are more than sheer fun. They’re exciting and a little dangerous (controlled danger is good for you).

People who live an Uber ride away from the slopes don’t know how good they have it. I’m really, truly jealous. Don’t squander your good fortune.

Snowball fights/angels/men/women

I don’t get snow much anymore. Living in Malibu, I’m lucky to see my breath. But growing up in New England, my buddies and I would get into the most epic snowball fights around. This was before helicopter parenting became a thing, back when you had the freedom to wage entire season-spanning campaigns against the kids across town.

Snowplay unlocks something deep within. Find it again.

Stews and soups

Man, there’s nothing like a big brothy bowl of falling-apart meat and hearty vegetables on a cold day. It’s a day-long endeavor that drip-drop rewards you with smells, anticipation, and, finally, sustenance.

That same meal might taste good enough in August, but it doesn’t hit you in the heart like it does in December. It satisfies your belly, not your soul.

Stokes purple sweet potatoes

You can get purple Okinawan sweet potatoes from the Asian markets—they’re okay, just not as good as eating them fresh from Hawaii—but my favorite purple potato as of late has been the Stokes purple sweet potato. It’s moister than the Okinawans and drier than your standard orange Garnet sweet potato. I like them two ways:

Bake at 400 until soft, mix with coconut oil, salt, and cinnamon.

Bake at 400 until soft, mix with 85% dark chocolate and sea salt.

Once November rolls around, I know they’ll be coming soon to Whole Foods.

That’s why I love cold weather. What about you? What are you appreciating about winter these days? Thanks for reading, everybody.

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