50 Ways to Have a Healthier Fall
Take a hot bath, sip a warm drink, then take a lovely nap—doctor's orders!
Open the curtains and turn off your lamps
Thanks to all our modern inventions (like electricity), it’s super easy to become disconnected from our natural rhythms. This can lead to all sorts of health problems, including insomnia, overeating, and depression. As the days get shorter, take this time to make a conscious effort to get your home environment back in tune with nature, suggests Carolyn DiCarlo, an architectural and interior designer. Set up your spaces to take advantage of natural light—say working by a window during the day—and make sure to turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Add this to the list of 50 things you need to do before fall.
Add a fire pit to your patio
Dropping leaves and temps may make you feel less like hanging out in your backyard but fall is the perfect time to get some fresh air and enjoy the relaxing benefits of nature, DiCarlo says. Clean off your deck or patio, winterize the furniture, trim the plants back, and perhaps add a fire pit or heater to make staying out on chilly evenings more appealing. We all have an innate need to be outside, in nature, and it’s good for us mentally and physically, she adds. These are the health benefits of cold weather.
Get your flu shot
The flu season typically runs from October to May, afflicting about 20 percent of Americans and hospitalizing 200,000 of them every year. The best way to protect against this miserable illness is to get your flu shot ASAP, preferably before Halloween, advises Margaret Khoury, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Flu Vaccination Program. “Influenza is a highly contagious and debilitating respiratory infection that can cause serious complications, hospitalizations, and, in some cases, even lead to death,” she says. “It’s important that everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in their area. Getting your annual flu shot can lower our risk of catching the flu, developing flu-related complications, and missed school or work days due to illness.”
Check out some online workouts
Don’t let all the fitness momentum you built up over the summer slide just because it’s getting colder outside. “Think about ways to bring your workout indoors—by going to yoga classes, downloading a fun fitness app, walking around the mall, or doing some YouTube workouts,” says Lindsey Bristol, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Swanson Health.
Clean your windows, inside and out
Cleaning your windows now is a good idea, first of all, because colder weather is coming and you’re definitely not going to want to do it in January. But it’s also good for your mental health, DiCarlo explains. “This removes a barrier of accumulated dirt between you and the world, improving your mood,” she says. “Sitting near a bright window feels happier and more expansive than sitting in a dark corner.” Next, tackle these 11 everyday items you don’t clean nearly enough.
Put a water bottle next to your bed
Before going to bed each night, fill up a water bottle and put it on your nightstand (use an insulated bottle if you want it to stay cold). This way it will be the first thing you see when you wake up, and you can chug it before you even get out of bed. “Make drinking water a part of your morning routine,” Bristol says. “Water helps flush out toxins, aids digestion, transports nutrients, maintains your body temperature, helps with weight loss, improves your skin, and a whole lot more.”
Set up a game table
Social interaction with friends and family is a major key to living a long (and happy!) life, according to recent research done by Brigham Young University. To help encourage this as the weather chills, make inviting gathering places within your home, DiCarlo says. Set up a table with a chess set in the dining room, add some fun decorations to your kitchen table, or rearrange your living room to feel more like a sitting room where conversation can happen rather than just a TV-watching room. “The goal is to encourage more relaxed social interactions which are psychologically beneficial, as well as give you more places to hang out,” she says. This is also a great way to cope with autumn anxiety.
Check out the fall farmer’s market
Summer fruits get all the love, but the harvest isn’t over yet! Fall is chock full of tasty, fresh produce like squash, beets, onions, pears, and, of course, apples. “These nutritious whole foods should be your meal- and snack-time staples,” Bristol says. “Stay away from processed foods, which are often lower in nutrients, higher in refined carbs, and contain more artificial ingredients.” These are the in-season foods that taste better in fall.
Nix noise pollution
“You’re probably not aware of how stressful it is to be exposed to repetitive noise on a regular basis,” DiCarlo says. Not only are the noises annoying, but they can seriously damage your health, according to research published by the Australian Academy of Science. Fix the problem or, if that’s not possible (say, you live by a highway) invest in some earplugs and a white noise machine.
Clean out your old summer clothes
You’ve heard of spring cleaning, so why not introduce fall cleaning as well? It’s the perfect time to declutter all your summer clothing and gear that’s not going to last another season, DiCarlo says. In addition, get rid of anything that doesn’t make you happy, she says. Here are more things to throw out before the fall.
Drink a cup of bone broth
Nothing feels better on a chilly fall day than wrapping your hands around a warm mug. Do your health a little favor this fall by filling your mug with yummy bone broth, Bristol says. “Bone broth provides a variety of health benefits from supporting joint and bone health to boosting immunity,” she explains. You can drink it plain or make it the base for soups or stews.
Put your phone on a diet
As the weather turns colder it can be tempting to spend even more time on your phone, laptop, tablet, or other gadgets—but it’s to the detriment of your health. Fall is the perfect time for a tech diet, says Samuel Malloy, MD, medical director at Dr Felix. “Instead of picking up your phone or tablet, pick up a book or take up another hobby,” he says. “You don’t have to cut out tech completely; just limit your screen time to set windows. This can improve mental health, help you relax, and aid a good night’s sleep.”
Put the tea kettle on
Putting the tea kettle on the stove feels a little old-fashioned—but in a fun way! Not only is tea a warm, delicious drink, but many teas contain health-boosting antioxidants, Bristol says. Her personal favorites are ginger and turmeric teas. Plus, herbal teas don’t contain any caffeine, so you don’t have to worry about being too energized before bedtime.
Get jiggy with it
Dancing is an easy and fun way to work some exercise into your day, Dr. Malloy says. “Whenever you’ve got a bit of time to yourself, switch on some music and just dance. You can burn about 94 calories in just 15 minutes of dancing,” he says. “As the mornings get darker in the autumn, it can feel a little depressing at times, so start off your morning with something positive and get dancing.”
Give yourself a firm bedtime
Now that school is back in session, many parents have set a bedtime and routine for their kids—so why not do it for yourself too? “Seven to eight hours of sleep gives your body a chance to heal, strengthens immune health, and lowers your risk of many health problems,” Bristol says. “Not to mention, if you’re short on sleep, you are more likely to crave unhealthy foods as a quick-fix for low energy.” Do you know these sleep aids that are actually hurting your sleep?
Let yourself be bored
It’s surprising but true: A little boredom is good for you, inspiring creativity and problem solving, and increasing social interaction, Dr. Malloy says. “Years ago when I used to get the bus to school, I’d sit and look out the window or chat to the person sat next to me, but today, our eyes go straight to our phones if we have to wait for something,” he explains. “Next time you’re waiting for something, instead of using your phone, experience your life. People-watch, look out the window, or even start up a conversation.”
Achieve your resolution before resolution season even starts
Who needs January? “As the leaves change, it’s a good excuse for you to change too,” Dr. Malloy says. Commit to trying a new healthy habit—like taking a post-dinner walk—just for 30 days, he suggests. “In 30 days, you can see how something can fit into your life and if it is really the change you want to make long-term,” he says.
Banish the chill with chili
Vegetables and legumes are some of the most powerful cancer-fighters we have, but for them to work you have to actually eat them. “Fall is a perfect time to add more vegetarian dishes to your diet and beans are filling, nutritious, and an excellent source of protein and fiber,” says Diana Licalzi, a registered dietitian nutritionist. Warm soups are filling and easily packed with healthy veggies—she suggests trying a creamy lentil soup or a hearty three-bean chili.
Orange you glad you like lemons?
Put a bowl of citrus fruits front and center in your kitchen, because stocking up on foods rich in vitamin C can help ward off seasonal colds, Licalzi says. While it’s a myth that mega-dosing on vitamin C will cure a cold, making sure you get plenty of the nutrient every day can build up your immune system and reduce your chance of getting sick, she explains. And it doesn’t take much, just one orange a day is enough, she adds. These everyday habits will up your risk of getting a cold.
Make breakfast at dinnertime
A healthy morning routine actually starts the night before, says Garth Graham, MD, cardiologist and president of the Aetna Foundation. One way you can ensure a great start to your day is to prep your breakfast right after you finish dinner. You can put together overnight oats, mini-quiches, chia pudding, breakfast burritos, or many other high-protein, filling fall breakfasts in advance. When breakfast is already ready, you’ll be less likely to grab a bagel or muffin on the go.
Say “ohm” before you say “hello”
Another easy tip to kickstart your day in a healthy way is to set aside five minutes to meditate each morning, Dr. Graham says. Daily meditation has a host of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and other stress-related lifestyle diseases, he adds. You can download a guided meditation app or simply sit and breathe. P.S.: Meditation is one of the 50 simple things you can do to feel instantly happier.
Make healthy tweaks to favorite fall recipes
Pumpkins, apples, zucchini, and other fall staples are often made more palatable as sweet treats like pies and breads (or covered in marshmallows—looking at you, yams!). While it’s fine to indulge in the good stuff on special occasions, try different, healthier ways of preparing these foods, Dr. Graham says. For instance, toasted pumpkin seeds are high in protein and can improve heart health. Apples roasted with a sprinkle of cinnamon and walnuts are a fiber-filled snack. And yams are deliciously sweet roasted in the oven all on their own. These are the fall superfoods to add to your diet.
Soak in a warm, relaxing bath
Evict all the kids’ toys and clean the pet hair from your bathtub. Then fill it up with hot water, Epsom salts, and maybe a sprinkle or two of lavender or rose oil. Now: Bliss. It’s easy to forget the simple luxury of a hot bath after a cold, rainy, fall day while you run through your busy schedule, but taking time to pamper yourself and de-stress can have major physical and mental benefits, according to Fiona Briggs, a beauty expert and VP of Ayr Skin Care.
Wash your face no matter how tired you are
Sometimes the best things you can do for your health are the simplest, and this is especially true when it comes to your skin. Taking a few extra moments every day to wash and moisturize your face will help clean it and provide a protective barrier from cold weather, Briggs says. “Make it a nightly ritual to thoroughly remove all your makeup, give your face a massage as you wash, and use gentle movements to apply moisturizers and serums,” she says. Here’s how to get your skin on track for fall.
Greet the sun with a smile
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressing reality for 10 million Americans as the seasons change from summer to fall. However, there are some simple things you can do to help prevent it, starting with sunshine, says Ken Ceder, executive director of Science of Light. To get your daily dose, spend at least 15 minutes every morning outside, in the sunlight, without sunscreen or sunglasses on. Bonus: It can also help you lose weight and increase your energy naturally, he says. Sun not cooperating? Work around gloomy days by using a lightbox or try one these 14 tips to avoid SAD.
Sterilize your cell phone and keyboard
Think of every gross thing you do with your hands every day. Now think of everything you touch with those hands. With flu season bearing down, now is the perfect time to clean and sterilize all those little things you touch all the time, like your keyboard, tablet, phone, and desk, says Meg Roberts, cleaning expert and president of Molly Maid.
Throw a package of disinfecting wipes in your bag
Make sure to wash your hands regularly, but keep your clean streak going by using wipes to sanitize other surfaces you commonly touch (hello, grocery carts!), Roberts says. “When it comes to avoiding fall flu germs, look for ‘disinfectant wipes’ like Clorox or Lysol, as they are more effective than antibacterial wipes,” she says.
Put a family-sized bottle of hand sanitizer on your desk
Not only will this visual remind you to regularly clean your hands, but hopefully it will inspire others who are visiting your workspace to do the same, Roberts says. Keeping your hands clean is one of the best things you can do to avoid the flu. Don’t forget to add a box of tissues, to help keep germs from coughs and sneezes contained. Take your clean act on the road with a portable hand sanitizer, like this one from CleanWell.
Get in on the bullet journal trend
With school back in session and the holidays coming up fast (is that Candy Corn we see on store shelves already?!), staying organized is the key to staying sane, and a great way to do that is with a “bullet journal,” says Christa Trivisonno, of Faber-Castell USA. This type of journaling is not so much about writing your feelings (although you can do that too if you like) but more of a daily organization tool, helping you simplify your schedule and keep track of events, she says. Interested? Here’s how to start your own bullet journal.
Wrap your holiday gifts now
The trick to avoiding all the unhealthy pitfalls of the holidays—stress + punch bowl full of eggnog = regret—is to start preparing now. “Do whatever you can right now to avoid stress, like get Halloween costumes, book travel arrangements, make the Thanksgiving menu, freeze some pies and rolls, do the Christmas shopping, and even wrap the presents,” says Jason Way, a naturopathic doctor. “Even doing just one or two of these things will significantly lighten your load for the holidays.”
Save holiday treats for holiday parties
Got a favorite Halloween candy? A Thanksgiving dessert you can’t resist? A fondness for Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Avoid the usual fall weight gain by making holiday treats just that—treats you enjoy only on special occasions. “Be more intentional with your food choices,” Way says. “Just because treats are available all the time doesn’t mean you have to eat them all the time. Try limiting them to weekends or specific holidays.”
Snuggle up in a warm blanket and take a nap
Is it just us or are fall naps the best naps? You’re all cozy and warm but it’s not dark and dreary outside yet! Well we have good news: A nap is also great for your health by helping you make up any sleep you missed the night before, says Reneé Sunday, M.D. Check out these 10 health benefits of naps (and then go curl up for a snooze—doctor’s orders!).
Make an appointment for your annual check-up
Fall is the perfect time to schedule your annual doctor’s visit so you can catch any underlying conditions or health factors you need to be aware of, Dr. Sunday says. Bonus: Doing it now means you can use your health insurance benefits before they run out at the end of the year and still avoid the rush in December.
Check out a local bike trail
Hiking, biking, running, and sometimes even walking may feel too intense during hot summer weather. So take advantage of the cooler days by heading outside for a fun workout, says Natalie Knezic, writer and health and wellness expert. “Outdoor exercising relieves more stress, boosts energy levels, and provides other unique health benefits than you’d get sweating inside the gym or house,” she says. Here are more fall bucket list activities to try this season.
Start every dinner with a soup course
Soup is a fall staple that is both tasty and healthy, so start your meal with a bowl of vegetable-packed soup—it’s super filling while being low in calories, says Jennifer Mimkha, RD, a plant-based registered dietitian. “Research has shown that people who consume a bowl of vegetable soup eat significantly fewer calories during the rest of the meal, compared to those who opt for the bread or even salad,” she says. Just make sure you’re sticking to healthy, low-cal options and avoiding creamy or cheesy soups.
Break out your slow cooker or Instant Pot
Slow and pressure cookers are a lazy cook’s best friend! Not only do they do most of the work for you but they make healthy cooking a cinch. “Cooler weather is the perfect time to dig out the slow cooker,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian, author, and consultant to Swisse Wellness. “Cooking large batches of nutrient-rich dishes such as vegetarian chili or vegetable soup allows you to refrigerate or freeze extras which saves time on meal prep all week long and can help cut down on eating out.” Joined the Instant Pot fan club? Use these 8 tips to get the most from your Instant Pot.
Make your own homemade pumpkin spice lattes
What’s fall without its signature hot beverage? The only problem is that a typical pumpkin spice latte is loaded with sugar, fat, and calories. Save your wallet and your waistline by making them at home, suggests Shawn Goldrick, chef and director of patient support services at Boston Children’s Hospital. “You can use almond or coconut milk and just a little coconut sugar and honey which is a much healthier alternative to the high fructose corn syrup many coffee shops use,” he says. Try these 11 tips to make any of your coffee drinks healthier.
Take a family trip to a local apple orchard
Apple picking is great for the body and mind, and fall is the time to do it, Goldrick says. Not only are you getting exercise and fresh air walking around the orchard, but making your own applesauce, fruit strips, or pies allows you to make them healthier than what you’d find at the store, he adds. Plus kids will love everything from the picking to the pureeing. These are the best places to go apple-picking in every state.
Try some new tailgating recipes
It’s football season, which means tailgate time—and all the fatty, sugary, cheesy, and alcoholic treats that go with it. You don’t have to skip the party though; just try swapping out some of your favorites for healthier substitutes, like veggie burgers instead of a beef patty, Goldrick says. (You’ll be amazed at how much they taste like the real deal!) And throw the football around while you’re waiting for the grill to heat up.
Swap out your old scented candles for new ones
Scented candles are the best—how else can you get your home to smell like orange-cinnamon potpourri without actually having to make anything? But traditional scented candles often are made from paraffin, which contains the carcinogens toluene and benzene, says Huib Maat, the in-house perfumer at Pairfum London. “Instead, choose natural beeswax or soy candles, as they burn cleanly with no soot or smoke, and they are not carcinogenic,” he explains.
Add a heavier blanket to your bed
Colder nights call for thicker bedding, but adding a heavy comforter to your bed does more than just keep you cozy—it can improve your quality of sleep, leading to many health benefits, says Melissa Bamberg, founder of Nod Pod. “Our bodies respond to gentle, constant pressure, similar to a hug or swaddling a baby so the pressure from a weighted blanket can be very soothing,” she says. “They’ve been shown to help reduce symptoms of autism, ADHD, PTSD, and other sensory disorders but it’s something everyone can benefit from.” Here are more ways to cozy up your bedroom for fall.
Whip up a batch of virgin hot toddies
A glass of wine or a shot of whiskey may make you feel instantly warmer but alcohol in excess can cause serious health problems, says Keith Ayoob, EdD, registered dietitian and professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Skip the booze for low-cal substitutes or drink moderately. “Moderation is defined as one serving per day if you’re a woman and two servings if you’re a man,” he explains. “Plus you won’t have to worry about a hangover the next day and you won’t forget all the people you met at your work party.”
Buy the Halloween snack packs of candy
It can be easy to go overboard with snacking when you’re surrounded by a veritable buffet during the holidays. One way to keep control and avoid bingeing is to limit yourself to 200 calories, Dr. Ayoob says. That way you can have a few tastes of something really decadent or you can “spend” your calories on something more filling, like a Greek yogurt with a small handful of nuts.
Keep a carton of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge
One way to head off cravings for sugary treats is to eat a snack high in protein, Dr. Ayoob says. Hard-boiled eggs are a perfect, portable, and cheap source of protein. Boil a whole dozen and keep them in a labeled carton in your fridge then have one or two before heading out to a party or a holiday meal. In the a.m. try one of these 15 high-protein breakfasts.
Nix nighttime snacking
Cut off eating two to three hours before bed and you’ll not only slash calories but you’ll sleep more soundly which, in turn, will set you up for a healthier day the next day, Dr. Ayoob says. “It’s hard to get deep, restful sleep when your digestive tract has to work hard to digest a big meal while you’re trying to wind down for bed,” he explains. “Those extra two or three hours before bedtime without extra food lets your GI tract empty out more and be at rest when your head hits the pillow.”
Make your bed as soon as you wake up
First, this will prevent you from crawling back into it—a real temptation on cold, fall mornings. Second, research has found that doing this one small act is linked to having better productivity, a greater sense of well being, and more willpower for things like sticking to a diet plan or your budget, says Julie Lohre, certified personal trainer and fitness and nutrition expert. “It is not that making your bed causes these things to happen, but rather this key habit initiates a chain reaction that helps other good habits take hold,” she says.
Add pumpkin to everything
When you’re looking at the quality of your food, there’s one number Lohre says you should be paying particular attention to: the grams of fiber in each serving. “Research shows that fiber can rev up your metabolism by as much as 30 percent,” she explains. “They found that women who ate the most fiber from foods gained the least amount of weight over time.” One of the best sources of fiber? Pumpkin! It’s also rich in nutrients so try adding pumpkin to your breads, smoothies, pasta sauces, soups, and lattes. Aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber per day.
Warm up with a cup of coffee
Nothing sounds better on a cold day than a hot coffee and indulging your caffeine habit can be good for your health, according to a study published in the Annual Review of Nutrition. Researchers found that a cup or two a day lowered the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer. Plus, the stimulating effects can help increase your metabolism, Lohre adds.
Eat dinner as a family every night
Fall means a more structured schedule for most families, so take advantage of this by scheduling in some daily family time. Talking with parents each day is an important way for kids to process their world, helping them overcome fears and reducing stress, says Carole Lieberman, MD, author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror. Studies have also shown that eating together helps people make healthier food choices and eat slower, which in turn helps you know when you’re full.
Hit up the ski sale
Buying gear for winter sports—think everything from skis and snowboards to gloves and snowshoes to sleds and ice skates—can help you stay excited and active instead of succumbing to the impulse to hibernate all winter, says Erik Bowitz, editor of Skinny Yoked. “Participating in outdoor winter sports is crucial for staying healthy in winter, both for cardiovascular reasons as well as getting enough sunlight to maintain healthy vitamin D levels,” he says. Next, check out 41 reasons fall is our favorite season ever.