Winter in Germany typically starts in late October with a bitter cold that lasts well into March. Part of this season is accompanied by snow, but more often than not, it is just wet and dreary. Even so, Germans have found a way to beat the winter blues by incorporating wellness into their daily routines.
I observed this lifestyle approach while stationed overseas with my husband. We were fortunate enough to enjoy three wonderful winters in a small German village where we were immersed in the culture. This gave us the unique opportunity to silently observe another way of life as curious bystanders.
Of particular interest to me was the Germans’ ability to embrace a healthy lifestyle even under the bleakest conditions. Watching them survive the frigid cold was a cultural experience that didn’t include an expensive price tag.
Here’s what I learned:
Fitness — Get outside and walk.
Every weekend we observed our German neighbors, of all ages, outside wandering the foothills surrounding our home. They made time to walk even when the paths were covered in snow and ice.
Watching in envy, my husband and I decided to follow in their footsteps. Soon we developed a Sunday walking ritual. This simple activity did wonders for our weary spirits. For at least one hour a week, we removed ourselves from our hectic, over stimulated lives and lost ourselves in the beauty of the great outdoors. Now that we are back in the States, we still commit time every weekend to walk.
Nutrition –- Eat fresh food.
Contrary to popular belief, German food is no better or worse for you than its American counterpart. The main difference is how it is consumed. A German menu is based on ingredients grown seasonally and prepared in a way that offers sustainable nourishment. Historical data shows that pork, potatoes, and beer became a German staple because it was food that kept them warm and full. When consumed together a little went a long way. To this day, Germans continue to enjoy the same traditional cuisine –at home and in restaurants — using seasonal produce and livestock. They take great strides to sit down and enjoy a fresh meal without feeling rushed.
While overseas, my husband and I grew accustomed to eating large portions of schnitzel (breaded pork) and French fries while drinking liter beers –a dietitian’s worst nightmare! Yet, both of us managed to lose weight and maintain a healthy BMI (body mass index) while living there. We didn’t fully understand why until moving back to the States and realizing our portions had tripled in size and temptation. We now have a newfound appreciation for the term “fresh food.”
Wellness –- There is always an opportunity to slow down and socialize.
Instead of staying home and out of the cold, the Germans frequently connect and socialize as a group. This usually involves food and drink in a relaxed setting. Examples include linking up with friends and family at seasonal Christmas markets, enjoying a long meal at a favorite restaurant, or relaxing at a local wellness spa.
We found this lesson to be particularly enlightening because there was never a particular excuse to meet up –birthdays, holidays, fundraisers, etc. –other than wanting to enjoy each other’s company on a cold day. Having grown up in bitter climates, my husband and I know how easy it is to isolate ourselves during the winter months. Once we started participating in these local activities, the dreary weather didn’t have the negative effect it once did. As a result, we have both vowed to actively incorporate a social wellness routine into our lives to help fight against seasonal depression.
Living in Germany was a true blessing because it forced me to slow down. I now realize that there will never be an excuse good enough to keep me from finding time to go for a walk, cook a fresh meal, or spend time with friends. I’ve made these habits a priority in my life because they make me happy. As we enter the winter season, I encourage you to do the same. Incorporating these three habits into your weekly routine will not only help you survive winter, but will also be especially beneficial to those enduring a long deployment/field rotation, or those of us trying to overcome a geographical separation from friends and family.
What is your favorite outdoor winter activity?