I love winter! It has always been my favorite season. Winter encourages me to be reflective in a way that other seasons do not.
Staying healthy during the winter used to be a challenge for me. While hunkering down and turning inward is a natural part of the season that I love, it also tended to keep me inside more, making me less active.
For me, winter has a way of bringing up cravings for warm, rich, heavier foods. Certainly, listening to our bodies is important, however, these cravings sometimes made it easier for me to eat foods with less nutrient density and that sometimes led to overeating and weight gain. The winter season—even at its end —can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder.
When I started to consistently practice the following five tips, I found I stayed healthy throughout the winter.
1. Get Outside and Play.
I always find when I am outside in the winter that I feel invigorated and enjoy the solitude that being outdoors in the winter often brings. Of course, any temperature extreme can be serious or life-threatening if you aren’t prepared.
I tend to dress to in layers when I know I will be outside, wearing clothing that stays warm when wet and that pulls moisture away from the body. I recommend material blends, such as Lycra and nylon, which are better choices than clothing that contains a high cotton content, since cotton stays wet for a long time and will not keep you warm when wet.
Experiencing cold temperatures, while uncomfortable for some, can be healthy, giving your immune systems a boost and speeding up your metabolism. When I make sure to wear the proper clothing, being outdoors in the winter is fun and healthy.
There are many ways that I enjoy the outdoors in the winter, from the well-known activities of skiing and snowshoeing, to the lesser-known wildlife spotting and ice climbing. I gravitate toward activities that keep me moving, get me out into nature and are fun and playful. This has also helped me get more sun, which is important for staying healthy throughout the winter and can help with the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
2. Take Your Supplements.
It is important to take additional supplements in the winter, especially Vitamin D3 and Vitamin C.
While I know that our bodies make Vitamin D3 naturally when we get enough sunlight, I didn’t realize until a few years ago that in many parts of the world it’s difficult to get enough sunlight exposure during the winter. Not only because we don’t get outside as often, but also because of the angle of the sun. The angle of the sun in the winter makes it difficult for UVB rays to reach us. These are the rays we need to make Vitamin D.
One of the many benefits of Vitamin C is that it gives your immune system a boost by providing it with needed nutrients. If you do get sick during the winter, taking Vitamin C can lessen the duration of your illness. I consulted my physician before I started taking any nutritional supplements and found that taking the Vitamin C and Vitamin D3 supplements improved my chances of staying healthy through the winter.
3. Eat Whole Foods/Eat with the Season.
I eat whole foods with the most nutrient content I can and find that it gives my body what it needs to stay healthy during the winter.
During the winter months, I, like many others, crave rich, warming foods with high-fat content. I listen to my body’s natural impulse and indulge in hearty, warming foods, so long as they are whole, local foods, free from chemical additives, growth hormones, antibiotics and are as close to their natural state as possible.
I seek out foods that are in season and locally available so that I am sure that my food has the least amount of preservatives and has the nutrients that I need to thrive in this season. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that operates for part of the winter. I highly recommend finding one in your area.
This doesn’t mean that I never eat something that isn’t naturally available in my region during the winter. It means my focus is on foods that are naturally available during the winter months. I seek out root vegetables including potatoes, beets and carrots (which are some of my favorites). I follow Traditional Chinese Medicine guidelines for eating in the winter, as well as the guidelines from Ayurvedic Medicine or Ayurveda, as it is also called.
Exercise has always been important for me all year round. I know that during the winter I get a mood boost from exercise and helps me feel fit. With the shorter days and colder temperatures, I tend to want to nestle and be more reflective, which makes it harder to be active. While I recommend getting outdoors as much as possible, even during the winter when the weather drives me indoors, I pull out my go-to exercises that are simple to do.
One of the best exercises we can do is the basic push-up. I have come to appreciate the many benefits of this simple exercise. Push-ups can be done pretty much anywhere you have the room to do them. I have been known to do push-ups in the middle of the kitchen or bathroom.
I also have simple ways to get in a cardio workout without equipment while being indoors. One is to march in place, dance or go up and down the stairs—even a short flight of stairs will do the trick. I was recently introduced to interactive video games, which is a fun way to move your body while indoors. I follow the idea of moving my body while having fun and it has always worked.
5. Enjoy the Rhythm of Winter.
I find that while being outdoors in the winter, I notice landmarks or features I hadn’t noticed before as a result of less leaf cover and shrubbery. I embrace the rhythm of winter contemplating, reflecting, regenerating and resting all while gearing up for the intense growth and energy of spring. I look forward to using this time of year to reflect, write and read more or to do the indoor projects that have been on my list for awhile.
I also like to spend more time on hobbies that are best suited for winter. While this can vary greatly depending on your geographical location, winter can offer a better view of the stars, since the evening hours are longer and the sky is clearer due to less humidity and higher density. I also use the winter months as a time to get involved in causes that I am interested in and to brush up on research that I have been putting off.
Winter is my favorite season, but it doesn’t have to be yours for you to enjoy it. I know that following these simple tips helps me stay to healthy through the winter and enjoy the season for all that it offers and they can help you too.
Author: Dr. Peter Berg
Editor: Travis May