Making the Most of the Spring Mood Bounce

It's something I haven't seen for a few frigid months here in New York City -- a normally miserable, low-energy person whistling an ABBA song with a smile stretched across his face.

This is the third day in a row that I have seen people who, over the past months, have shuffled around miserably, pick up the pace, move faster and respond to my hellos.

After the cold winter months, finally the days are getting longer. Instead of waking up in the dark and coming home in the dark, we experience sun upon arising and after our office hours. Physiologically, we start to feel the arrival of a new season of growth and renewal.

It is good news for both seasonal depression and for the economic depression. Admit it -- maybe you might have gained weight during this time to deal with stress and to make you feel better. Not that you did it intentionally; it just happened. But the end of your dilemma is here -- springtime.

So how can you make the most of the springtime bounce?

Springtime Is Slim Time

The winter months are not the easiest times to diet. Our bodies have a natural need to stay warm, which means that we may feel like we need additional calories. To insulate our systems, we tend to eat foods that are higher in calories. And nature provides us the foods that we need according to our local seasons.

Just take, for example, the squash. Believe it or not, summer squash has fewer calories then winter squash. In winter, there are many more root vegetables available than fresh, green foods. Root vegetables -- such as celery root, beet root, carrots and potatoes -- are easy to store and long-lasting over the winter months versus green foods, which tend to spoil quickly and can't be stored.

When spring finally arrives, some purported fat-burning, slim spring foods come with it. If you are a nature person and follow seasonal changes (or perhaps have your own vegetable garden), you know that some foods appear sooner than others. Chives, ramps and asparagus are the first to come back. These belong to the sulfur-containing family of vegetables, which are said to be fat emulsifiers and are also believed to increase liver function and bile production.

All of this helps with your metabolism. All of those extra calories that you can't burn over the winter are converted in the liver from glucose to glycogen. During low calorie intake, the glycogen stored as fat will be converted back again for usage for our body -- and liver-friendly food helps this process of conversion.

And that's where bile comes in. Bile, which is synthesized and secreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder, helps the liver to break down fats. Bile, however, cannot do its proper job if it lacks certain nutrients that make up the bile salts. Sulfur-containing foods such as chives and asparagus aid in the quality of bile production, thus aiding in the fat breakdown.

Spring Activity Scores High

Activity increases our metabolism, and therefore our conversion of fat into energy. To burn more fat, we need less calories and more activity. We covered diet above -- but what about calorie-burning activities?

There is little doubt that winter can be depressing -- both in the physical sense and the psychological sense. While our bodies may naturally be geared to preserve energy in the winter, a combination of low energy and not much sunlight can result in depression.

This all changes as spring arrives and summer comes ever closer -- evidenced by the increased variety of activities at our disposal. Hikes, runs, water sports, climbing or walking all are easy options. While winter has the tendency to keep us in the gym (if we even exercise at all!), in the summer, cross training might be the preferred activity. From a swim in a lake to a run or a bike ride, these options are easier to implement when it's warm outside.

Plus, more sports games become easier to find at the local park during the week or on the weekends -- sports, such as touch football, soccer and baseball. You may even find yourself changing from a weekend warrior into a seven-day-a-week warrior!

This is all good news for our mood, as outdoor activity helps us to manage our stress. When we are exposed to stressful situations -- which are far from scarce, thanks to the state of the economy -- our hormonal levels respond accordingly. The stress hormone cortisol, to name one, can slow down our metabolism when we are exposed to stress. Weight gain can be the result.

Springtime Health Can Be Simple

Fortunately, even simple exercises can help us reap some serious psychological benefits. Take mindful walking, for example. During this activity, we focus on the environment around us and the ground under our feet, all the while letting go of our problems, allowing us to focus on the moment. Sounds simple, right? But mindful walks have been found to have the best stress release versus hiking, tai chi or running.

The message is clear: Springtime is an active time to get started moving again. If you don't know where to start and what seasonal foods to eat, I recommend the following:

First, make a weekly trip to the farmer's markets and pay attention to what is in season. Introduce yourself to the farmers and know how they grow their produce.

Go, as well, to your city hall and ask for the bulletin board for community activities. Contact the person who is in charge or just say hello when you see a group playing some sports or being active together, such as running or hiking.

Fighting depression, reducing blood pressure and otherwise cutting the risk of cardiovascular disease can be easy by implementing those strategies. And best of all, you don't need to join a gym and spend additional money on expensive foods -- just enjoy what spring has to offer!

Stefan Aschan is a leading expert on lifestyle, health and fitness who has helped more than 30,000 people get fit through advice on nutrition, fitness and lifestyle changes. For your free must read "Updates and Solution" newsletter and e-report on "How to have 10 times more success losing weight, staying on top of your goals, and accomplishing the change of body shape and appearance," visit