Winter can be a season packed with fun activities and joyous moments, but cold-weather months can also bring a blizzard of health issues, ranging from the latest round of contagious bugs and weight gain, to stress-induced insomnia and loneliness. But don’t fret! Adopt these six easy habits and you will bolster your physical and mental health throughout the longest, coldest winter.
1. Eat More Meals at Home
Eating out has its benefits, but few, if any, involve improved health. Research has shown an association between eating meals outside of the home and higher intake of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, as well as lower intakes of beneficial monounsaturated fats compared to eating at home. Also, eating out usually involves a higher intake of calories and sodium.
You can stay healthier and win that winter weight-gain battle by eating most meals at home, where you are in control of ingredients, cooking style, and portions. Try to incorporate some of these nutrient-rich foods into your cold-weather culinary adventures:
· Winter vegetables: winter squash, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, Brussel sprouts and other veggies in the cruciferous family
· Seasonal fruits: oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, tangerines, clementine, cranberries, pears, apples, pomegranate, persimmon, lemon, passion fruit, pomelo
· Legumes: lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, white beans, lupini beans, pinto beans, Lima beans, black-eyed peas
· Nuts and seeds: almonds, peanuts, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds
· Fish: sardines, tuna, wild-caught salmon, Pacific cod, halibut, oysters, shrimp, herring, scallops, tilapia, clams, crab, pollock, tuna (when purchasing seafood, always look for sustainable seafood certifications)
No time to cook, or do you feel intimidated in the kitchen? No worries! Try one of our meal kits or soup mixes to get started. Add a few of your own fresh or frozen vegetables as your cooking skills progress. Keep dehydrated vegetables handy in your pantry; they’re a super quick and easy way add nutrients, flavor, color and fiber to nearly any dish.
2. Drink More Water, Tea and… Coffee!
Sure, it’s easy to remember to drink water in the hot summer months, but it’s just as important to hydrate during the cold, dry season, too. Just because you’re not sweating, doesn’t mean you need to drink less. Environmental humidity plays a role in our hydration needs, and central heating causes drier interior environments during the winter, which can lead to increased water loss. Dry, flaky skin and chapped lips aren’t the only problems winter weather throws at us; the kidneys actually excrete more urine in cold environments.
The Institute of Medicine suggests women should drink about 64 ounces of water and men 96 ounces. Food contributes about 20% of the daily water total, and knowing that many fruits and vegetables are 90 to 95% water makes eating these foods all the more important to maintaining your optimum health. And if you’re a tea or coffee lover, you’re in luck, because they count towards hydration, too!
Here are a few tips to help you stay hydrated this winter:
· Eat more fruits and vegetables
· Eat more soups and stews, but be sure to avoid high amounts of sodium
· Keep a refillable water bottle handy and sip throughout the day
· Enjoy your morning coffee boost, knowing it also provides a healthy dose of antioxidants. Choose organic coffee, which tends to be higher in beneficial properties. Keep an eye on how it affects your blood pressure and sleep patterns.
3. Eat More Vitamin D-Rich Foods
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin used by the body for normal bone development and maintenance. Because sunshine is the primary natural source for Vitamin D, it’s earned “The Sunshine Vitamin” nickname. Just twenty minutes of sun exposure over 40% of the body can provide the suggested minimum daily requirement, and yet it’s estimated that nearly 60% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient. Why?
Unfortunately, the winter sun does not have the same effect if you live in regions north of the 37th parallel, where during cold-weather months the sun is lower and its UVB rays are weak. Up your intake of this essential vitamin by eating Vitamin D-rich foods. These include: mushrooms, egg yolks, fatty fish (tuna, sardines and salmon), cod liver oil, and fortified foods. You can also consider taking a Vitamin-D supplement. Studies indicate that Vitamin D3 is more readily and completely absorbed in the body than D2.
A word of caution: because too much Vitamin D can be just as problematic as too little, numerous criteria must be considered to determine the best level for you. Talk to your health care provider about your Vitamin D intake. A simple blood test can accurately determine your current level and if supplements are right for you.
4. Stay Active: Sit less, Do More
For overall health and fitness, the American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, no matter the season. Don’t enjoy ice skating, sledding or skiing? Can’t get to the gym during winter months or afford to buy exercise equipment? Don’t despair — create your own enjoyable workout!
Invest in an inexpensive pedometer an go for a walk in your neighborhood, around your yard, or do laps around your living room; new medical guidelines suggest a goal of 5,000 steps daily. Find an online fitness routine that fits your lifestyle and abilities. Set a timer and dance to your favorite music. Bone density a concern? Look to your pantry for clearly labeled weights: no doubt there’s a 24-ounce can of sauce and a 5- or 10-pound sack of potatoes. Strive for 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week. You’ll become stronger, sleep better, and have a brighter outlook to carry through to warmer weather.
5. Get More Sleep
You know that run-down feeling after a poor night’s sleep…. You simply can’t perform everyday tasks as well when you’re running on empty. Getting a good night’s rest is absolutely necessary for maintaining optimum performance and health, with 7–9 hours being the average recommended by health care professionals.
Prioritize your down time even during the holidays, when working through a deadline crunch, and other stressful demands. But most often, that’s easier said than done. There are times when the hamster wheel in our brain simply won’t stop spinning when head hits pillow. One of the worst things you could do at such times is to panic. Instead, take action.
Let’s assume you have followed all the “rules” published by the CDC and other agencies, like making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and relaxing; removing all electronic devices from the bedroom; and avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before sleepy time. Here are a few suggestions for those unsettling nights when your mind resists the sleep you so desperately need.
· Get up, go to another room, and read a book or magazine (not electronically!)
· Indulge in the age-old remedy of a glass of warm milk; go ahead, add a bit of honey…
· Have a cup of a calming herbal tea
If trying an herbal supplement, be sure to consult your health care provider to ensure there will be no interactions with your other supplements or medications. Also, if your sleeplessness continues, there might be an underlying medical condition that should be addressed.
Ultimately, once you are getting a good night’s sleep, your immune system will thank you with greater resistance from the circulating bugs, as well as much more resilience to the stressors that come your way.
6. Keep in Touch with Family, Friends, and Community
Because of inclement weather, winter is often a time of social isolation, resulting in loneliness. According to the CDC, loneliness is linked to serious health risks, including heart disease and stroke, type-2 diabetes, depression, and dementia.
Make an effort to reach out to others on a regular basis throughout the winter season; your communication or interaction may be the lifeline they need to avoid utter loneliness, and it may be the habit that helps you maintain your optimum health.