As you’re gearing up for the winter months, what’s on your to-do list? Maybe you’re pulling out your box of favorite holiday sweaters or making plans to spend time with loved ones. Or, you might be adding tissue boxes, Vitamin C tablets, and chicken soup to your grocery list.
From the increased susceptibility of getting sick due to the cold to the difficulty in exercising outside, staying healthy in the winter months can seem challenging. But with a few tweaks to your self care routine, you can help keep your body strong and well to enjoy all the bright moments of this chilly season.
From eating healthy winter foods to enjoying plenty of z’s, here are a few tips and tricks to keep yourself in tip-top shape. But first, let’s answer a key question about this season.
Why Is It Harder to Stay Healthy in Winter Weather?
Cold and flu season may seem synonymous with the colder months of winter. But why do the sniffles come around the same time Santa does? Scientists are still working on the answer, but here are a few predominant theories:
- Our immune systems’ defenses struggle in winter. Our key defense? The nose knows! According to scientists, the mucus in our nasal passages is designed to trap viruses, shifting the invaders down the back of our throats as we swallow, sending them to be neutralized by our stomach acid. But the cold air slows the mucus down, so the virus has more time to make itself at home in our nasal passages.
- Lack of Vitamin D. Sunlight triggers our body to produce vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D helps supports the immune system so it can do its job more effectively. In fact, a recent study showed that Vitamin D helped immune systems stave off respiratory infection.
But as the weather turns cold and gray and Seasonal Affective Disorder kicks in, our intake of sunlight (and therefore our bodies’ ability to produce Vitamin D) decreases. Moreover, the amount of sunlight available during wintertime in the northern hemisphere is too little to produce enough vitamin D without supplementation. Now more than ever many people are turning to Vitamin D for SAD symptoms, due to the common vitamin deficiency.
- It’s harder to get regular exercise when it’s cold outside. Exercise habits may take a sabbatical around the winter season. Because it’s cold out there! Our bodies naturally want to stay in the warmth and comfort—but at a cost. Researchers at Appalachian State University discovered that the increased blood flow caused by exercise help the body improve immune regulation.
How to Stay Healthy in Winter
The keys to staying healthy this season work year around. They include:
- Physical activity
- Eating well
- Adequate sleep
But winter can make even the most basic healthy habits feel a bit more cumbersome. Here’s how to keep your body in tip-top shape from the first snow of winter to the first bloom of spring.
Your doctor might say that regular exercise is a must-have, no matter the weather. But exercise can also be the answer to “how to increase energy levels” especially around this bustling holiday season!
Go For Walks
Good news: There’s no need to throw yourself into an elliptical machine to enjoy the health and immune-supporting benefits of exercise. Just bundle up with your hat, gloves, and scarf, and take in the winter wonderland of your neighborhood with a walk. According to Neiman’s study, participants who took a 45-minute brisk walk experienced an increase in immune cell activity up to three hours after the stroll.
So grab your puffy jacket and boots and plug into a podcast!
Build Your Strength Without the Weight Machines
Strength-building exercises can help keep your body working at its best. But sometimes, trekking to the gym on cold winter days seems like a workout in and of itself!
Here are some workouts you can do in your cozy living room (recommended by none other than the Mayo Clinic):
Side planks – Side planks activate your oblique muscles, the muscles on the outsides of your abdominal wall. Lay on your side and stack your feet on top of one another. Using the strength of your arm that’s touching the ground and your core, lift yourself away from the ground. Make sure to keep your hips high and avoid sinking into your shoulder.
Donkey kicks – This exercise strengthens your glutes, the muscles of your buttocks. Get on all fours on the ground. Then, kick your right leg up and away from your body, as though you are trying to stamp your flat foot on the ceiling. Then, pull your knee back into your abdomen to complete a rep, and then switch sides.
“Hug-a-tree” – Try this workout to maintain upper body strength in the shoulders and back muscles. Keeping your arms at shoulder height, reach out in front of you with a gentle bend in your elbows with your muscles nice and taut. Maintaining this shape, open your arms as though to invite a good friend in for a hug.
From there, close your arms again for one rep. Hold weights—soup cans will work!—in each hand or add a resistance band for an additional challenge. Don’t forget to keep your shoulders relaxed away from your ears as you do this one.
Good blood flow helps your immune cells seek and destroy germs and viruses before they have the chance to strike. Drinking plenty of water is essential to healthy blood flow. Blood is about 50% water after all! But there are other health benefits to drinking water, including:
- Keeps your joints lubricated
- Helps protect organs and tissues
- Transports nutrients and oxygen to cells
- Maintains proper moisture in the eyes, nose, and mouth
- Essential to the absorption of minerals and nutrients
Mayo Clinic recommends that adults try to drink around 11.5 cups (or 2.7 fluid liters) for women and 15.5 cups (or 3.7 fluid liters) for men every day. But the best way to stay hydrated is to sip water throughout the day and drink whenever you’re thirsty.
To help you stay hydrated in the colder months, try to bring fluids with you whenever you leave the house and keep a glass of water nearby when at home. Having a water bottle nearby will hopefully remind you to keep sipping even if you don’t feel particularly parched.
Food fuels your body’s systems. The better the fuel, the better you’ll feel. Although wintertime certainly has its indulgences like eggnog, latkes, and buttery mashed potatoes, balance out the treats with a nutrient-rich diet by incorporating more winter vegetables, like carrots, beets and cabbage.
Make Your Meals Mediterranean
Plan a vacation for your meals with a Mediterranean diet. Mayo Clinic has identified the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest you can eat. Luckily, you don’t need a trip to Greece to enjoy the healthful benefits of this meal plan.
Eat plenty of...
- Lean proteins like chicken, beans, lentils or fish
- Sources of healthy fats like olive oil, salmon, and avocados
- Colorful fruits and veggies
- Whole grains like brown rice, farro, oats and whole-wheat pasta
Limit your intake of...
- Red meat
- Dairy products
Talk to your dietitian and doctor before making any drastic changes to your eating plan.
Add Sources of Vitamin D to Your Diet
When winter comes around, you may not be getting as much sunshine as you’re used to in warmer seasons—and that means less Vitamin D. Thankfully, Vitamin D comes in food form as well. Add sources of Vitamin D to your meals like:
- Oily fish like salmon and mackerel
- Egg yolks
- Fortified grains like whole-grain breakfast cereal
- Milk and fortified plant-based beverages
Eat From the Rainbow
A colorful plate of fruits and vegetables can be as healthy as it is aesthetically pleasing. The more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they contain. Of course, the produce section looks a little bit different in winter than it did in summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of eating from the color spectrum!
Here are some winter veggies that look like they dropped right out of the rainbow:
- Acorn squash
- Butternut squash
- Kabocha squash
- Broccoli and broccoli rabe
- Purple cauliflower
- Red onions
And don’t forget the fruit:
- Mandarin oranges
Defend Against Bacterial Invaders with Probiotics
Your body fights bad bacteria that can cause illness with good bacteria that keep your gut healthy and happy. And probiotics are the secret ingredient to keeping your gut bacteria in fighting shape. Scientific American states:
“In the gut, a robust population of beneficial bacteria can help crowd out harmful bacteria, making it harder for them to thrive. In addition, probiotic bacteria can influence the activity of our own immune cells, regulating inflammation, barrier function, and cell-to-cell signaling.”
When it comes to probiotics, why not enjoy the simple and convenient benefits of Bio-K+ probiotic pills? Our probiotics pills and vegan capsules flood the body with beneficial bacteria that can help support the digestive tract, immune system, and gut health. It’s never been easier to keep your gut at its healthiest!
Getting Plenty of Sleep
While you sleep, your immune system gets to work, creating infection-fighting antibodies and cells to help keep your body virus free. But without those wonderful z’s, your body may be ill-equipped to take on any viral invaders. Try to get 7–9 hours of sleep every night to ensure your immune system is working at its best.
Stay Well Year-Round with Bio-K+
Winter can be a hectic time for everyone, and it can be difficult to make time to keep yourself well. But a dose of Bio-K+ can pave the way for you to stay healthy and strong throughout the season. Learn more with Bio-K+!
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