Autumn: The Season to Shape Up

Cool Temps, Fresh Fare, and Healthy Habits

Autumn is a great season to get in shape, which may come as a surprise to some of you.

"Why would I begin or maintain a workout routine in the fall when winter—the season of ultimate indulgence—is just around the corner, waiting to mess it all up?"

Here's the reason: because it can actually be easy to keep your motivation in the fall, so why not take advantage of it?

That's right—there are aspects of fall that encourage physical activity and healthy eating. The cooler temperatures and colorful fall foliage practically mandate outdoor exercise. And seasonal produce is extremely fresh and rich in vitamins.

And whether you want to pick up some healthy habits or hope to maintain the hard work you've accomplished throughout the year, a nutritious diet and exercise will help manage—or even eliminate—your back and neck pain by controlling your weight, strengthening your muscles, and reducing stress.

Exercise and diet are the pillars of healthy living, and below are the ways you can reap their benefits this fall:

Exercise: You have nearly 3 months to establish a solid exercise plan before eggnog season rolls around. Fortunately, that's plenty of time to implement healthy changes that will help you get through the holiday season without the extra pounds.

In the summer, high temperatures can make outdoor exercise painful—even dangerous. But autumn's more comfortable temperatures beckon outdoor exercise.

Take a 30-minute walk after dinner, plan that hike that you never got around doing last summer, go on a jog through a park and take in warm, rich hues around you. Exercise doesn't have to be about lifting heavy weights or running yourself down on a treadmill at the gym. Exercise should—first and foremost—be enjoyable.

For many adults, fall also brings extra free time, as kids are going back to school. Use some of that extra time to fit in a morning workout.

If you're just starting an exercise regimen and need somewhere to start, this article may help get you off on the right foot:

Diet: There are two schools of thought when it comes to fall fare. Almost all of fall's signature foods can be prepared in a healthy way and a not-so-healthy way.

Take sweet potatoes, for example. Sweet potatoes are among the healthiest of fall produce. But add the extra butter, eggs, brown sugar, and pecans that typically join the otherwise healthy yam in a sweet potato casserole, and suddenly it's a very different story.

So really, all you have to do is know—and choose—the healthy version. And the best way to do that is to enjoy fall foods in their natural glory. Don't tinker with them by adding extra fat and sugar. I know this can be difficult. As the temperatures drop, cozy comfort food always sounds good. And while you can hide under a thick sweater for a few months, spring always shows up.

Take advantage of the last few weeks of farmers' markets and stock up on the best of fresh fall foods. Fall vegetables, such as squash and pumpkin, make hearty soups that are healthy and inexpensive to make. Just make sure you opt for a broth base, not a cream base.

If you need some tips on healthy eating—both during the fall season and throughout the year—read these articles:

If you view fall as the season to get in shape or rev up your existing fitness routine, it will help you prepare for the holiday eating hurdles that loom ahead. When you've worked hard to make healthy eating and exercise a priority, you'll reach Thanksgiving with a strong, healthy spine—and an even stronger motivation to say no to a second piece of pumpkin pie.

Updated on: 10/22/14