How to Stay Healthy, Fit and Safe During the Winter Season
The Winter season can be busy and exciting. With so many events like family dinners, holiday parties, and the preparation and planning for gift giving, we have plenty of distractions to keep us from focusing on our health and taking care of ourselves as we would normally.
Furthermore, once the holiday season is over, many people experience a lull in their motivation to stay active. Some people begin to experience depression or feelings of anxiousness over expenses that accumulated throughout the holidays. Others let diet and healthy eating habits fall by the wayside. Often, given the weather, exercise is sacrificed for warm nights spent indoors on the couch.
With shorter days and colder weather, finding the motivation to stay healthy and fit can be difficult. And that can lay the foundation for a weakened immune system, posing a greater risk of developing illness or injury. No wonder they call it the winter blues. What’s more, the colder weather creates a number of safety risks to us and to those around us, and some of these we may not even be aware of.
Recognizing safety risks and patterns of illness or low energy ahead of time is key to preventing them — or at least to dealing with them as they arise. There are countless winter wellness tips and ideas available to ensure you have lots of ways to stay healthy, fit and safe this holiday season and beyond. These healthy winter habits will help you to recognize where your health falls short and what you can do to boost it during this time of year.
Diet and Exercise Tips
While the winter season might increase the risk for weather-related injury, the biggest risk to our overall health is a lack of attention to diet and exercise routines. During the holidays, we find ourselves so busy finalizing travel plans, finishing up with tasks at work, buying and wrapping gifts and crossing everything off of our checklists that we forget to prioritize our healthy habits.
As if all the insanity of the holidays isn’t detrimental enough to our healthy habits, the chilly and unpleasant weather can also make it very difficult to find the motivation to get to the gym or head outdoors for exercises. In tandem with this, the additional time spent indoors means many of us snack more than we would typically at other times of the year. This combination that can quickly add on the pounds and reduce our happiness and self-esteem over time.
Maintaining proper diet and exercise routines is also necessary to ward off illness. It is estimated that up to 20% of the United Sates population gets the cold or flu each year. Wintertime presents a higher likelihood to develop cold and flu than during any other season. Here are some winter diet and exercise tips to show you how to stay healthy and fit during winter’s colder months:
1. Calm Your Carb Cravings
The cold season tends to ignite our cravings for more carbs and comfort foods. Why? After you consume these delicious treats, your serotonin levels rise, making your brain think you are happier. And as the day wears on, your carb cravings get stronger and stronger.
To counter this, try eating a protein-packed breakfast to keep your energy levels up throughout the day. If by the time the afternoon rolls around you’re still craving sweets or carbs, be sure to have low-fat and healthy snacks on hand. However, if you can, finding a way to increase your serotonin levels without food is the best way to beat the carb cravings.
2. Add Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a healthy type of fat that are naturally found in many food types including fish, plant seeds and nuts. Omega 3 fatty acids are great for reducing joint pain and stiffness as they are a natural anti-inflammatory. Studies have also shown that omega 3 fatty acids help lower levels of depression, which people commonly feel during the shorter days of winter.
3. Cook With Mushrooms
There are several species of mushrooms that have immune-boosting health benefits. That’s because mushrooms have naturally-occurring antibiotics. This gives them medicinal properties, which helps us to fight off many types of illnesses. Next time you’re at the grocery store, be sure to stock up on varieties like white button or shitake mushrooms and add them to your meals this winter.
4. Eat More Fiber
Soluble fiber found in apples, oats and nuts is an important way to decrease inflammation and boost immune system function. Soluble fiber also helps reduce cholesterol levels in the body and aids in weight loss and protection against diabetes. This is an especially important winter health tip for seniors who require a high-fiber diet to protect their digestive systems.
5. Eat More Green and Orange Vegetables
Sticking primarily to vegetables and fruits that are dark green and orange is important in ensuring you’re getting healthy nutrients, sugars and fats. Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, squash, carrots and oranges are all delicious during the winter. There are plenty of recipes available to incorporate these items into your regular winter diet.
6. Cook With Spices
Onions, garlic, ginger and cilantro are the perfect items to add flavor to your dishes. Not only do they make food taste great, but they’re also shown to help improve immune function. Turmeric is a spice traditionally used in Chinese and Indian medicine. Its main active ingredient is called curcumin, which gives curry its yellow color. This spice helps to combat a number of conditions including inflammation and heart disease, and it acts as a powerful antioxidant.
7. Plan Your Exercises a Week in Advance
Try to stick to a weekly exercise plan so you don’t put off your regular exercise activities. On Sunday night, write down your exercise schedule for the next seven days. Choose your exact workout routines, activities or exercises for each day and how long they will be. Knowing what you’re scheduled to do each day ahead of time makes it easier to stick to. If you can, line up your workout schedule with a friend to encourage each other to stick with it and stay motivated.
8. Workout at Home
If you have no desire to head outdoors for your workout, then never fear. There are plenty of resources online that supply fun workout videos and exercises. These resources offer a variety of workouts including yoga, strength training, aerobics and other body-weight exercises. Check out Pinterest for tons of great resources so you can get fit in the comfort of your own living room.
9. Get a Wii Fit
Just like the online workout videos, a Nintendo Wii Fit is a fun and convenient way to stay fit during winter and have fun at the same time. This gaming device provides virtual workouts to direct the user through a number of exercises like yoga, strength training, aerobics and more. It can be adjusted to fit your personal goals from cardiovascular improvement and disease prevention to muscle building and weight loss.
These diet and exercises tips are great, specifically in the winter, but they can also be used year-round. By reminding yourself that spring will be here before you know it, you’ll stay motivated to provide proper attention to your body and health habits during the winter.
Mental Health and General Wellness Tips
Above and beyond the potential for personal injury and the decline in fitness and diet routines, winter time presents another threat to our health. This time of year can cause an increase in depression, which may lead to a decline in overall mental health. Though many people may experience mild forms of depression or sadness due to lower levels of sunlight, there are an estimated nine million Americans chronically affected by the change in season. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and it is significantly more common in women than men.
When our mental well-being isn’t where it should be, we become even more susceptible to stress and illness. It is as important as ever in the winter to take a holistic approach to wellness, not only for our diets and physical exercise, but for our mental well-being, too.
Here are some mental health and general wellness tips for winter so you can stay healthy during the colder, darker season:
1. Frequent Hand Washing
Though it sounds like a broken record, frequent handwashing throughout the day is an absolute must in maintaining your health during the winter. It not only helps protect your immune system and prevent you from developing flu and cold, but it protects others around you.
2. Head to a Sauna or Steam Room
If you begin to feel yourself experiencing depression or higher levels of stress during and after the holiday season, steam rooms and saunas can help. They help tense muscles to relax which can alleviate feelings of stress. The high temperatures also get you working up a sweat, which is a great way to detoxify your body and your skin.
3. Take Vitamin Supplements
Consuming lots of vitamin C during the winter will help your body to battle cold and flu symptoms if you do experience them. Vitamin D helps to supplement the lack of light experienced during winter, but it’s still important to get out in the sun whenever it does appear. Vitamin D helps to absorb other important vitamins like vitamin A, iron and calcium.
4. Drink Herbal Teas
There are many types of herbal teas that can help you stay healthy. Herbal teas like lemon and chamomile can ease depression and anxiety by calming nerves and relaxing your body. They can also help you sleep better. Some herbal teas like green and Rooibos are great as antioxidants. For the most benefit be sure to look for organic teas made from high-quality ingredients.
5. Sleep Longer and Better
When the days get shorter, your body will naturally want to sleep longer and will adjust its rhythm to the hours of daylight. Use the longer evenings to wind down and begin relaxing before bed. Try to go to bed as early as possible to give your body enough rest during the times it craves it the most.
Many people choose to use light boxes that operate on a timer and turn on gradually when it’s time to wake up. This helps your body feel like it is morning. Using this method means that over time, it will be easier to wake up, even if it’s dark outside.
6. Practice Meditation and Relaxation
When you start to feel the winter blues, anxiety and stress, it’s important to know how to manage it in a healthy way. Going for a walk outdoors whenever weather permits will drastically improve your stress levels, even if it’s just once around the block. You may also want to develop the habit of deep breathing whenever you feel anxiety mounting. Meditation and mindfulness are great practices for managing stress as well.
Find a dark room to sit in by yourself and close your eyes. Relax your muscles, and focus on being present — emptying your mind of all thoughts.
7. Get Social
During the holidays, it’s easy to find lots of things to do. Local community Christmas programs and events like parades, tree lightings, ice skating and craft fairs abound. But after the holidays, many people start to feel lonely as the activity and buzz die down. This is the perfect time to reconnect with old friends. Plan dinner and movie nights or a day for winter-themed crafts. Organizing family game nights is also a great way to stay connected with loved ones.
8. Plan a Vacation
A winter vacation is a great way to shake off the winter blues and recharge yourself in a healthy way. Planning a getaway to a warmer climate will help lift your spirits and give you something to look forward to.
Even if going on vacation isn’t in the budget, simply researching ideal destination spots and browsing through travel packages will make you feel better. Hit up travel websites and check out the reviews on top hotels in tropical locations. Make a list of the top holiday spots, and explore them on Google Streetview. Then make a long-term plan to visit the spot that interests you most.