How teens can beat Old Man Winter at his game

With winter at my doorstep, I am reminded of the expressions “dead of winter” and “cabin fever.” Many start to get antsy about being cooped up for too long, especially teens who are used to being active every minute of the day. Teens want to get out and get moving, but afternoons spent at the beach or biking through the countryside are distant memories now that the weather no longer cooperates.

Some people are affected by seasonal differences more than others. The colder temperatures and fewer hours of sunlight can affect a teen’s mood or even lead to depression. The key is to keep energy levels high and creative ideas flowing.

Basics for a positive winter season

Healthy eating is important to keeping a teen’s energy up.

Megan Fendt, RD, CDE, of the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, suggests, “When the winter months get dreary, think color. A plate full of bright-colored food can perk [up] your mood just by looking at it. The vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables can help you think more clearly. Getting more brain food can be as easy as grabbing some baby carrots or a green apple.”

Teens often eat on the run, but these energy snacks will keep them going: citrus fruits, granola bars, yogurt, raisins, or nuts.

Dory said it best to Nemo, “Just keep swimming…just keep swimming.” In an age where hand-held electronics and video games are common pastimes, exercise sometimes takes a backseat.

“When it comes to exercise, the perception is often a drill sergeant and a miserable experience. It doesn’t have to be that way,” says Jason Stella, a certified personal trainer and fitness expert with Lifetime Fitness Centers. “Think about a time that you played without worrying about judgment. Typically, you felt great when you were participating in the experience, even if it was difficult and caused you to lose your breath.”

Keeping Stella’s advice in mind, teens should look for creative ways to exercise. For instance, meet friends at an indoor pool and plan some races. Sledding is also a great workout. Once you go down, you have to climb back up!

Worst case: seasonal depression

Does your teen seem to be more affected by the winter than she should be?

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months when days get shorter. Symptoms include excessive eating, excessive sleeping, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, and weight gain. A craving for carbohydrates is also characteristic.

How does a parent realize it’s more than mild “cabin fever?” Angelos Halaris, MD, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, IL, offers, “SAD has a seasonal pattern. It usually sets in during early November, gets progressively worse during the course of the winter months, and begins to lift by itself in late March or early April.”

Cases can range from mild to severe, but SAD is treatable.

“If at all possible, get outside during winter, even if it is overcast. Open drapes and blinds to let in natural light. SAD can be effectively treated with light therapy, antidepressant medication, and psychotherapy,” Halaris advises.

Cool options for cold months

Besides energy-packed foods and a good dose of exercise, suggest these clever ways teens can keep their energy levels up:

• Take it outside: Snap some beautiful winter landscape photos while hiking or decorate an evergreen. (It doesn’t have to be Christmas!)

• Indoor options: Take a class and meet new friends (i.e. cooking or photography).

• Get creative: Don’t watch a movie — make a movie!

• Revitalize a space: Change the look of your bedroom.

• Serve the community: Volunteer in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Teens feel good about being needed.

Tips and tales

“My friends and I plan Wii Zumba or Just Dance parties. It brings us together in the months we can’t get outside. It’s really fun and is actually a workout, too!”

Nicole Armeno, Staatsburg, NY, age 17

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Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist and author of the newly released book, “LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS: Expert advice and support for the conscientious parent just like you” (Unlimited Publishing LLC); for details: Also available at

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