Winter Wellness: 10 Tips For Getting Through The Winter Months
Medically reviewed on Aug 29, 2017 by C. Fookes, BPharm.
1. Get Outside Often
It's easy to avoid going outside in winter. A covered garage can make it easy to go from your car to your office then back to your car again to arrive back home without ever feeling that icy sharpness on your face.
But staying inside for days on end, with nothing but artificial warmth and sniffing companions for company, is why most people get sick over winter.
Choose a day when the sky is blue and clear or it's not raining. Dress warmly, and step out and feel that winter sunshine. Admire how beautiful and clean your world looks when there is snow on the ground. You'll feel much better for it.
2. Keep Up the Exercise
Thumbs up if you have made it your goal to exercise more. How's that going for you?
Don't begrudge yourself if things haven't gone as well as planned. We know that it can be harder to stay motivated when it's cold outside and the days are shorter.
Choose a gym that is close to your home or work, or find a local fitness group or yoga class that fits in with your life. Buy something appropriate to wear and schedule in workouts as you would an appointment. Download a mobile app such as MyFitnessPal to chart your fitness. Make the most of a beautiful sunny winter's day, dress warmly, and run in the cold.
3. Make the Most of Nutritious Winter Fruits and Vegetables
Eating during winter doesn't have to be boring and vitamin deficient. Keep carbohydrate-laden foods such as white bread and pasta to a minimum and fill your plate with dark leafy greens, winter squash, citrus and pomegranate which thrive in the chill of winter.
These fruits and vegetables are laden with nutrients, antioxidants and fiber which increase your energy and help keep that winter-weight at bay. They can help fight cancer, too.
4. Protect Your Skin From the Inside-Out and Outside-In
Cold, dry air quickly sucks moisture from our skin. Combine that with a blasting of hot air from a central heating unit and some nice scratchy winter fabric and your skin can end up being one dry, itchy, scaly mess.
Keep moisture locked into your skin with a heavy, oil-based moisturizer. Lather it on every time you bath or shower or whenever your skin feels dry. Drink plenty of water and eat foods like berries which are high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, walnuts, or take omega-3 supplements), and consider using a humidifier to help add moisture to the air.
5. Watch Your Vitamin D Levels
Do you seem to succumb to every cold, flu, or stomach bug doing the rounds? Perhaps you are just generally feeling a bit blue. Both our immune system and our mood rely on vitamin D. Because vitamin D is made in our bodies after exposure to the sun, it is not uncommon for people to become vitamin D deficient during the winter months. Vitamin D also helps ensure that our bodies absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus for building bone.
Ask you doctor for a blood test to determine where your vitamin D levels fall. If yours are low, you may benefit from a daily vitamin D supplement with at least 600 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D.
6. Try to Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the hormone melatonin, which is released in response to light. Exposing yourself to too much light at night - such as that emitted from computer screens, TV screens or electronic devices - inhibits the release of melatonin which decreases sleep quality and quantity. This makes us feel sluggish and tired the next day.
Get up and go to bed at the same time of day regardless of the season. Restrict computer use and TV watching at night. Have a bright blue light for use at home in the morning (blue light switches off melatonin release), and only using dull light sources at night. A melatonin supplement may also help you sleep.
7. Thwart That Cold or Flu In Its Tracks
Maybe your throat has become a bit sore or scratchy. Perhaps your nose or eyes are starting to feel a bit congested. You can feel a change in your health but it's still in the early stages.
Keep some natural remedies at home to take at the first sign of a cold or flu. Olive leaf, garlic, echinacea, elderberry, vitamin C, and zinc may help to boost your immunity and increase our resistance to those nasty winter viruses.
8. Be Mindful of Your Heart
Extreme cold coupled with unaccustomed exertion is bad for your heart. Studies have shown that heart attack rates increase as temperatures decrease, and normally sedentary people who subject themselves to intense bursts of activity are more at risk.
So be careful if you have to go out on a freezing cold day and shovel snow. Use a small shovel and just move small amounts of snow at a time. Take any chest pain seriously. Seek medical help immediately if you feel discomfort, chest tightening, or pain in the chest, upper arm or neck area. Most heart attacks start with mild symptoms and then get worse so listen to your ticker!
9. Stay in Control of Your Asthma
Winter can be a challenging time for people with asthma. Cold and flu viruses can trigger asthma attacks; dry air or smoke from the fireplace can irritate airways; and the christmas tree may harbor invisible mold spores that exacerbate asthma symptoms.
Try to avoid known triggers if you can. Buy an artificial Christmas tree and cover your mouth with a scarf when going outside. Keep taking your asthma medications, even if you are feeling well. See your doctor in the winter months if you feel your asthma is not under good control.
10. Shine Some Light on Those Winter Blues
Thirty percent of people in the northern U.S. states struggle with the winter blues each year. A few of them suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that happens around the same time each year.
If you find yourself getting more and more irritable as the winter progresses, or are lacking in energy, feeling really down, oversleeping, or craving carbohydrates, talk with your doctor. A light therapy box may help, as may exercise and getting outside more.