Low-Cost, Family-Friendly Outdoor Winter Activities

January 3, 2014

Baby, it’s cold outside! But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun outdoors. Whether you live in a sunny or snowy locale, there’s sure to be an idea on this list that’s perfect for you and your family to do together. And best of all, these ideas are inexpensive—and many are even free!

Play in the snow

If you live somewhere where there’s snow, take advantage! Bundle up and go be active outdoors. Here are some simple ideas:

  • Make snowmen. Be sure to gather dark rocks for eyes and button details, sticks for arms, a carrot for the nose, and perhaps even a scarf for decoration (snowmen get chilly, too!).
  • Make maple snow candy. Click here for an easy recipe.
  • See what else you can make with snow! Older kids can build a snow fort, while younger children may prefer to make snow angels.


Get in touch with nature

Not every animal hibernates during the winter, nor do all birds fly south. Go outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature!

  • Go bird-watching. It’s especially easy to see birds when there are fewer leaves on the trees. Find out what types of birds visit your area during the winter. Go for a walk and see if you can spot and identify any birds. Here is a reference that can help you identify the types of birds you’re seeing.
  • Check out animal tracks. If it snowed recently, and you live in an area where animals roam, you may be able to spot some tracks in the snow. See if you can identify any deer, rabbit, squirrel, or raccoon tracks around your property. This guide can help you identify what tracks you’re seeing.
  • Make a bird feeder for the backyard. Put out a tasty treat for your feathered friends. There are many types of bird feeders you can make using materials you already have around your home. Check out these easy, inexpensive ideas.
  • Take a walk. Enjoy the winter wonderland around you—the smells of cozy fires burning in people’s fireplaces, the winter sights (majestic pine trees, deer walking through fields, and many more), and the crisp, clean air.
  • Take pictures of snowy landscapes. Although snow and ice isn’t fun to scrape off your car, it looks beautiful on trees and rooftops. Capture the winter scenery with your camera!



Consider taking a little time out of your day to do something nice for a neighbor or friend who lives nearby. It’ll bring a little cheer to their day, and it’ll make you feel good, too!

  • Shoveling a friend’s driveway or sidewalk. Shoveling snow is good exercise that engages many muscles. Plus, keeping sidewalks and driveways clear of snow and ice can also help prevent falls.
  • Raking a neighbor’s leaves. This, too, is a good source of exercise, and it helps make the neighborhood look nicer.
  • Volunteer. Visit your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter and lend a helping hand. Shelters and soup kitchens are often more crowded when the weather is cold, so an extra volunteer will surely be appreciated!
  • Give animals some love, too. See if your local animal shelter needs volunteers, or offer to walk your neighbor’s dogs.


For more healthy, low-cost tips and ideas, be sure to check out the Healthcare Survival Guide!


Handwashing Your Way to a Healthier Winter

December 17, 2013

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infections and illnesses in all settings—from your home and workplace to child care facilities and hospitals. Having clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community. With cold and flu season in full effect, it’s a good time to brush up on proper handwashing techniques.  Below are handwashing tips provided by the CDC—following them can increase your chances of warding off winter colds or the flu.


When should you wash your hands?

You should wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food –especially if you are handling any raw meats.
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling garbage


What is the right way to wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather, and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel, or air-dry them.


Hand Sanitizers

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.


Fighting back against dry skin

The combination of frequent handwashing and the cold winter winds may dry out the skin on your hands, leaving them cracked. These tips can help you keep your hands clean and your skin healthy this winter.

  • Protect your hands outdoors. A pair of winter gloves will protect your hands from exposure to cold temperatures when you’re outside.
  • Wash wisely. If you have dry skin, wash your hands gently with warm (not hot) water. Excessive scrubbing and hot water can strip the skin of its natural, protecting oils.
  • Use a gentle soap. Avoid using deodorant, antibacterial, foaming, or heavily scented soaps, all of which may contain additives that strip fats from your skin. These fats help hold in much-needed water.
  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! Moisturizing is a vital part of relieving dry skin. Establish a moisturizing routine for after each time you wash your hands, or anytime your hands feel itchy or dry. Oil-based, instead of water-based, moisturizers tend to help lock in moisture better. Look for a moisturizer with at least one of the following:
    • Petroleum jelly (petrolatum), mineral oil, and lanolin, all of which trap water in the skin
    • Lactic acid and urea, which can help soothe severely dry skin
    • Glycerin and dimethicone, which draw water to the skin
    • Hyaluronic acid, which can help skin retain moisture

Source: The Mayo Clinic

Remember, washing your hands doesn’t just help protect you from germs, but it also protects the people around you from getting germs. Be sure to wash your hands to help keep yourself and those around you healthier this winter.

Fall Fun with the Family: Get Moving Together!

December 3, 2013

Fall is a great time to create healthy routines and get active with your family! Healthy habits start in the home, and exercising as a family can be a fun way to spend time together and create special memories. Here are some simple ideas to get you started:

  • Start your morning with a brisk walk or run. Not only does this rev up your metabolism for the rest of the day, it also gives you time to clear your mind and focus on the day ahead.
  • It’s apple season! Take the family to a local orchard for a day of apple picking, or hit up your local farmers’ market as a family. This can also be a great way to learn about new fruits and vegetables. Click here to learn more about what’s in season.
  • Happy trails to you…  Go hiking or biking and enjoy the beauty of fall! Use Map My Hike or Map My Ride to find trails near you.  Look for trails that have hills if you want to increase the intensity of your workout.
  • Tidy up outdoors. Rake the leaves in your yard. According to Harvard Health, a 125-pound person can burn 120 calories raking the lawn for just 30 minutes.
  • Take a post-meal walk. Walk with the family after a get-together like a big Thanksgiving or holiday meal.  It gets you out of the house and helps you burn calories, too.
  • Going road tripping? Be sure to park at a few rest stops along the way to stretch and walk around. This is a great way for everyone to release some energy and fit in some exercise.
  • Go play outside! There are many games you can play outdoors in the fall, like flag football and ultimate Frisbee. You could also try a simple game of tag, going geocaching, or organizing a scavenger hunt.
  • Early snowfall? Go out and play in the snow, build a snowman, go sledding, or shovel the driveway.
  • Join a local event. Check your newspaper for run/walk events in your area.  Turkey trots, jingle bell walks, and other themed activities can be enjoyable for the whole family.

There are so many fun activities to do during fall—get outside, get moving, and enjoy the crisp autumn air!  If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to the Wellness Coaching program, reach out to your Wellness Coach for more fall fitness ideas.

Healthy Recipes from the Pumpkin Patch

September 27, 2013

The days are cooler and the smell of wood burning in the fireplace fills the air. Fall is finally here, and with it comes a healthy, nutritious ingredient used in many seasonal dishes—pumpkin!  Best of all, pumpkin is often an inexpensive ingredient.  You can buy canned pumpkin at your grocery store, or you can scoop out the flesh from a pumpkin yourself.

Fresh pumpkins are not just for carving or decoration. Pumpkin is a very healthy food–according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s packed with nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin A and iron.  As pumpkin-picking season begins, start thinking about what healthy recipes you can make using pumpkin to serve at upcoming holidays and get-togethers.

You can go pumpkin-picking at a variety of places—they can be found at grocery stores, nurseries and garden centers, and some local farms.  When picking pumpkins that you intend to use in recipes, choose pumpkins without blemishes that are firm and heavy for their size.

Not sure where to find pumpkin recipes that are both healthy and delicious?  Consider trying one or several of these ideas:

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Don’t throw the seeds out! Pumpkin seeds are chock-full of healthy nutrients and are a good source of fiber, potassium, and protein. Once you’ve carved your pumpkin, clean off the seeds and place them on a baking sheet. Set the oven to 325 degrees and cook for about 5-8 minutes.  You can snack on them plain or toss them into a salad.


Pumpkin Bread

There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked pumpkin bread to bring in the fall season.  This recipe is sure to be a crowd pleaser:



Pumpkin Soup

Don’t buy a can of puree to make pumpkin soup–create your own pumpkin puree. Scoop out the pulp and puree it in a food processor or blender. Try using it to make this tasty pumpkin soup:



Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

This is a treat that turns plain oatmeal into a seasonal, yummy breakfast. Try this simple recipe:



Pumpkin Waffles with Maple-Walnut Syrup

Spice up your breakfast with this scrumptious recipe:



Pumpkin-Walnut Cake

This autumn treat will put a smile on your family’s face.  Try this delicious dessert:



Southwestern Pumpkin Burgers

Check out this colorful, spicy entree that will turn up the heat at your dinner table.  Just add some fresh tomato salsa and avocado to give it a real Southwestern kick. Try this recipe:



These healthy recipes can help you and your family celebrate fall.  Still craving more pumpkin or other yummy, seasonal treats?  Visit our fall recipe board on Pinterest for more healthy recipe ideas!

Fall into Autumn with Apple Picking!

September 24, 2013

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colors, and the weather is getting cooler. Summer has left and fall has finally arrived. Ring in the new season by picking apples with your family.  It’s a fun, low-cost activity, and afterward you can prepare fun, healthy apple-themed recipes at home.

According to the Mayo Clinic, apples are a good source of soluble fiber, which can lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Fresh apples are also a good source of vitamin C — an antioxidant that protects your body’s cells from damage. Vitamin C plays a key role in the growth and repair of tissues in your body and aids in the absorption of iron.  It is important to eat foods that are rich in Vitamin C since your body isn’t able to make it on its own.

So what are you waiting for? Time to get your family ready for apple picking! Health Advocate offers the following tips on how to make your outing fun.

Visit your local farms. This free resource can help you find farms in your area that allow you to pick your own fruits and veggies: http://www.pickyourown.org/index.htm#states.  You can also do a quick Google search to see if your favorite local farm is featuring any pick-your-own fruit or vegetable events. The best time of year to go apple picking may vary a little between regions or states, so use this resource to find out the ideal time for apple-picking in your area: http://www.pickyourown.org/US_crop_harvest_calendars.php

Get your workout on. The weather is not yet cold, so enjoy this opportunity to exercise outdoors as a family. If you really want to burn off some energy, try some friendly competitions in the orchard. See who can pick the most apples in 10 minutes. Do jumping jacks between trees. Or, take a long walk through the orchard with your family.

Think creatively. If you want to encourage your kids to adopt healthier eating habits, get them involved in the kitchen. Put those freshly picked apples to good use. Let your children enjoy the fruits of their labor!

Some fun, healthy apple recipes include:

  • Baked apples with cinnamon, honey and raisins
  • Homemade apple butter
  • Apple sauce
  • Cinnamon-apple muffins
  • Apple cobbler
  • Slice an apple and dip the slices into hummus or a nut butter
  • Make baked apple chips: Lay thin apple slices on a baking sheet, sprinkle cinnamon on top, and bake until crisp.

There are so many healthy apple recipes you can make–brainstorm recipes together and have your kids wash the apples and help prepare the ingredients!  Plus, you can use this as a teachable moment, telling your kids about the different types of apples available, when they’re in season, and what recipes best bring out their flavors.

Stock up. You can make large batches of applesauce and freeze it so you have a nice stash for the colder months. You don’t need any special equipment to make applesauce. Just core some apples (peeled or unpeeled—your choice), add some cinnamon and perhaps a few tablespoons of water, and cook until soft.  Then store it in containers and freeze. Applesauce can be a great healthy dessert or side dish, and it’s easy to pack it into a portable container to put in your child’s lunch bag.

An apple picking outing can be a great outdoor activity for you and your family to share on a weekend to wind down after a busy week of work and school. Try it this fall!

For more healthy, low-cost ideas, check out The Healthcare Survival Guide!

Try one free week of yoga during National Yoga Month!

September 20, 2013

No matter what kind of job you do, fitting in some time to de-stress and relax can help you stay physically and mentally healthy. Many people turn to yoga for help, since it’s a fun, relaxing activity that nearly anyone can do. Yoga can benefit everyone, men and women alike–from frazzled executives to super-busy stay-at-home parents, and everyone in between!

September is National Yoga Month, designed to educate people about the health benefits of yoga and inspire a healthy lifestyle. Yoga promotes a healthy body, mind and spirit through a combination of stretching exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation. The potential health benefits of practicing yoga include lessening the effects of back pain, stress, obesity, asthma, and more! Another benefit of yoga is that it can be done pretty much anywhere (like your home or even at work), and you can do yoga with others or on your own.

If you have always wanted to give yoga a try to see if it’s right for you, now has never been a better time. During National Yoga Month, the Yoga Health Foundation is offering a One Week FREE Yoga trial that you can use at one of about 2,000 participating yoga studios nationwide. Log onto their website at http://yogahealthfoundation.org/one_week_free_yoga, request the One Week FREE Yoga trial pass, and check out a studio in your area.

Here are some other ideas of ways you can try yoga without spending too much money:

  • Ask about new student promotions. Many yoga studios offer new student promotions, in varying degrees of value. Some studios may offer a free week, discounted first month passes or even a pay-by-the-class price.
  • Find deals online. Websites like Groupon or LivingSocial frequently offer money-saving deals on local health and fitness businesses.
  • Buy blocks of yoga classes. If you have a busier schedule or work odd hours and don’t think you have the time to go to a class every week, many yoga studios allow you to purchase blocks of classes (a card for 10 or 20 classes) and you can ‘drop in’ on a class whenever you can fit it into your schedule.
  • Community yoga classes. Check with your local community centers, like the YMCA, or local community colleges. They may offer yoga classes at a greatly discounted rate.
  • Practice on your own. You can do yoga no matter where you are!
    • On the go ideas: There are many free yoga apps with complete workouts and videos.  This is a great idea for those who travel a lot and are always on the go!
    • Athome ideas: Instructional videos and even video game systems, like the Wii Fit or Xbox Kinect, allow you to practice yoga by yourself, from the comfort of your own living room. Many cable systems also offer free on-demand yoga videos. You could also invite some friends over who have always wanted to try yoga, and make it a party!

Yoga may be able to help you become healthier and even happier.  If you’re interested in trying it, take advantage of one of these free or low-cost ideas and get started. Namaste!

Remember, before beginning any new fitness class or regimen, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.

Low-cost workout essentials

September 20, 2013

People are often under the assumption that working out is expensive—but that doesn’t have to be the case.  There are plenty of ways to exercise without breaking the bank.  Read on to learn about low-cost workout essentials, and where to find low-cost workout gear that will have you sweating in no time!


Not only does stretching help manage stress, but it can also increase your range of motion and balance, reduce your risk of injury, and increase the benefits of cardio and strength training. Even better, no special equipment is needed for stretching, and you can do it almost anywhere, at any time.

These tips can help you add stretching to your daily routine:

• Create a stretching routine and stick to it! Make sure your routine includes 2-3 stretches for each muscle group, including back and shoulders, head and neck, arms, legs and feet.

• Stretch most days of the week, hold stretches for 15-30 seconds, and remember not to bounce!

• Stretch before and after your workouts. If you are pressed for time, try to fit in a few stretches after your workouts to prevent muscle soreness.

• Stretching should not be painful. Scale back, or try alternative stretches, if you notice pain associated with certain movements.

• For a low-cost way to learn more about stretching, download a free stretching app, buy a yoga or stretching book from a used bookstore, or check out this free online resource: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness_programs_exercise_library_results.aspx?search=stretch


Treadmills, elliptical machines, stair masters, stationary bikes…  While these are great machines to use if you happen to have access to them, they’re not a necessity. If you want to build up stamina and get a good cardio workout, try these less expensive alternatives:

Jump Rope. Whether you call it skipping rope or jumping rope, the name says it all.  Jump ropes are a great way to get your heart rate up while also improving your agility. Jump ropes can be purchased for as low as just a couple dollars at mass market retailers or even the dollar store.

Stairs. Incorporating stairs into your exercise will strengthen almost every muscle group in your lower body, from your hips to your feet. Running up and down flights of stairs or even just walking up and down a staircase is a great way to tone your glutes, calves and thighs.

Walking. The National Center for Biotechnology Information recommends the average adult walks up to 10,000 steps per day. This number may seem high if you don’t exercise much now, but setting short-term goals to eventually work your way up to this number–maybe starting at 3,000 steps and incrementing this number by 500 a day/week–will give you a feeling of accomplishment and can keep you motivated with sticking to your workout routine. The best part about walking is you can do it anywhere! Walk around the mall, take your dog on an extra walk each day, or take a stroll through your local park.

Weight Training

Dumbbells. Dumbbells are great for building muscle in your arms, chest, back and wrists. Dumbbells can provide a more comfortable range of motion for many individuals than fixed position weight machines. Dumbbells are relatively inexpensive, but if you want to get them even cheaper, search the web for places selling new and used dumbbells at a discount. And if you want to use weights but don’t feel like purchasing dumbbells, get creative—cans of soup or jugs of water can serve as weights in a pinch!

Resistance Bands. Resistance bands are used similarly to dumbbells, but are even cheaper and lighter! Again, search online; you can find discounted new and used resistance bands on many sites.

Exercise Balls. These are great for constructing a solid core (the muscle groups in charge of bending, breathing, getting up and sitting down). Exercise balls engage your abdominals, hips and lower back and there are many different types of exercises you can do with them. A quick Google search will show you many sites to find exercise balls for a reduced price. Your local discount store may also have them in stock. Check out this link for specific exercises that can be done using the exercise ball: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness_programs_core_workout.aspx?workoutid=6

Body Weight Training. Body weight training has recently become one of the most popular ways to workout. You may have heard of programs like Insanity, P90X, 10 Minute Trainer–these workout programs use a combination of circuit training, or a high number of exercises for short periods, using only your body weight (or resistance bands) to shed weight and tighten up your body. These DVD workouts often retail for around $100-$120, but you can find previously owned copies online for a reduced price.


Workout Gear

Sometimes it’s necessary to get new workout essentials like sneakers, appropriate clothing, a new water bottle, and sunglasses. You don’t have to spend top dollar on these things, but being comfortable while you’re working out is important. Check online or your local paper to see if any retailers have coupons, sales or are selling any of these items at discounted prices.

Looking for more helpful tips on how to save money while getting healthy?  Check out the Healthcare Survival Guide!