Winter wellness is a challenge in the best of years, and as we face yet another long season of worldwide pandemic, we can choose to either hide in the dark and suffer the cold, or we can do the right and responsible thing: find real opportunities — and there are many — to keep ourselves and our families healthy. Here’s one list of hopefully helpful suggestions on how you can weather the winter:
1. Sleep deeply. Lack of quality sleep is a major health drain. It accelerates production of the stress hormone cortisol, causing us to eat more, gain weight and feel fatigued. The optimal sleep schedule for the average adult should be from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., in synch with the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
2. Breathe mindfully. Meditation isn’t just for yogis and can be done anywhere — on the mat or simply standing in line at the grocery store. Mindfulness practices such as deep belly breathing during meditation lower the heart rate and reduce anxiety. It isn’t a quick fix, but over time meditation helps train our body’s stress response and reduce burnout.
3. Try it dry. During the pandemic, there has been a spike in alcohol intake due to general anxiety and a shift in work patterns that has blurred weekdays and weekends. Remember: alcohol is an addictive depressant. Limit your intake to three days a week or, better yet, cut it out altogether for a month or more.
4. Do the D. If you spend most of your winter days indoors like most people, you could be Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is essential to immunity. It forms a good defense against infections, osteoporosis, dementia and Type 2 diabetes. It can also reduce fatigue, mood swings, joint pain, muscle cramps, depression and anxiety. An important caveat: Talk to your doctor before adding Vitamin D.
5. Stay moving. It’s nature’s antidote to the winter blues. Regular exercise improves immunity and mental health by helping the brain cope with stress. It’s also great for heart health, muscle strength, balance and flexibility. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobics or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobics a week.
6. Go for the good fats. So much of the American diet today is dominated by processed and packaged foods brimming with oxidized fats and inflammatory oils that attack our immune systems. Swap out those poor choices with foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that actually reduce inflammation, and with it, chronic disease. A few great examples: wild salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, sardines, anchovies, pasture-raised eggs, and flax seeds.
7. Feed the good bugs. The body’s microbiome, the ecosystem in your gut that helps regulate immunity, can use help from probiotics and prebiotics. Foods like whole veggies, unprocessed foods and fiber feed the beneficial bugs in the gut. Especially good are fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt and prebiotic fibrous foods like garlic, onions, leeks, artichokes, asparagus and onions. A more diverse gut bacteria is linked to lower risk of asthma, obesity, depression, and diabetes.
8. Go slow or no on sugar. Eating too much sugar can decrease your immune fighter cells, making you more susceptible to infection. Sugar gives you a temporary energy high, but it’s short-lived, followed by a dramatic crash, irritability, sadness and mental fogginess. Instead of processed sugar snacks, go for fruits and starchy vegetables to satisfy the urge.
9. Stay safely social. There are ways to be socially close while being pandemic safe. Outdoors walks with friends, meeting for a masked chat on the outdoor patio are some ideas. Seeing people we love supports our immune system, helping reduce risk of colds and infections, and simply makes us happy.