7 Reasons to Get Excited for Fall

by Jessica Smith for SHAPE.com

Get ready for fall!Get ready for fall!1. Pumpkins! Pumpkins are good for a lot more than festive decor! Take advantage of their bounty by trying new ways to fit pumpkin into your diet.

"Pumpkins are a superb food-fiber-rich and packed with health-promoting nutrients like beta-carotene and potassium," says Gayl Canfield, PhD, RD, director of nutrition for the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami.

And don't discount the seeds! Just half a cup of toasted pumpkin seeds has 92 percent of your daily value of magnesium, which most people have trouble getting enough of. Plus, they're full of protein and fiber to help you stay full on fewer calories.

2. New season, new TV shows: The end of summer means the end of reruns. While we don't recommend parking in front of the TV every night, tuning in for your weekly faves can have its perks. Instead of heading to the kitchen during commercial breaks, stand up and march in place, says Scott Danberg, MS, Pritikin's director of fitness.

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"Researchers at the University of Tennessee found that when people stood up and marched in place during the commercials of a one-hour TV show (about 21 minutes of commercials), they took roughly 2,100 steps. That's the equivalent of about one full mile," Danberg says. Going the extra mile during your favorite show could help you burn an extra 150 calories, he adds.

Already filled your cardio quota for the day? Even if you watch TV from the couch, you'll still reap some healthy rewards, especially if it's a comedy. Studies show a good laugh releases feel-good endorphins that can combat the negative effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Just be sure to keep your total (seated) TV time to a minimum, and skip the mindless munching to enjoy your favorite shows without packing on extra pounds.

3. It's all about the apples: The old adage 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' has a lot of truth, Canfield says. "Apples truly are one of nature's best diet foods . They fill you up for only about 100 calories, and they're packed with cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, antioxidants , and vitamin C. And studies have shown that apple eaters have a lower risk of suffering heart disease, strokes, and metabolic syndrome."

Visit an apple orchard this fall and spend an afternoon picking your own supply. You'll burn off a few extra calories and get to see exactly where your food comes from. (It's also a great fall date idea!)

4. Football fans unite: Getting together with friends and family to cheer on your favorite team is a healthy way to boost your well-being, says Coral Arvon, PhD, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin. "Many studies over the years have found that people generally live longer, happier, healthier lives if they have a strong network of support from friends and family," Arvon says (just one more reason it's great to be a sports fan!).

To stay slim and fit all season, steer clear of heavy halftime snacks (try a few of these healthier options), and add this NFL Cheerleader Workout to your fitness routine. It mixes cardio, strength, and agility moves to blast fat and tone your entire body.

5. Cooler (but not cold) temps: Exercising in the great outdoors relieves more stress and boosts energy levels better than sweating inside the gym, according to English researchers. And when it comes to outdoor workouts , trading the summer sun for cooler autumn days is always a welcome change, Danberg says.

Fall is the perfect time to attempt longer hikes, bike rides, or runs that may have been too taxing in sweltering conditions. Not sure what to do without your go-to gym tools? Try one or all of these effective outdoor workouts.

6. Seasonal spices: Cinnamon, pumpkin spice, vanilla, nutmeg , and cloves are quintessential scents of fall, and they offer plenty of health benefits to boot. Cinnamon, for example, may help reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar in people with diabetes, Canfield says.

Enjoying fall spices in some of your favorite recipes can even help you shed some fat. One recent study from Penn State University found that people who consumed two tablespoons of spices (like cinnamon and cloves) in their meals had 30 percent lower levels of blood fats than those who skipped the spices. Sprinkle some cinnamon or nutmeg on your coffee or bake some into your favorite dish to make the most of these seasonal spices.

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7. Resume your regular bedtime: Even if your days in academia are long gone, back to school season typically means a return to a more normal routine, which is good news for your health. Longer summer days are typically packed with post-work happy hours, lingering at the beach, and quite possibly, blowing off workouts and skimping on sleep.

Regular exercise and getting enough sleep are two of the best things you can do for your health, so take this opportunity to create a workout schedule and stick with a bedtime that's right for your body's needs. For a good night's rest, Sam Sugar, MD, director of sleep services at Pritikin, recommends going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends) and skipping snacks and exercise at least one hour before bedtime.

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