Winter Wellness: 8 Strategies to Stay Healthy
By Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, NBC-HWC
Staying healthy in winter can be challenging. During winter you’re more prone to colds and the flu because the viruses responsible for these illnesses prefer colder temperatures and drier air and nasal passages. Plus, less sunlight can make you feel tired and sad, and low humidity, cold temperatures and central heating can dry out your skin.
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to stay well in winter. Here are 8 strategies to keep you and your family healthy.
1. Wash your hands
Washing your hands with soap frequently, for at least 20 seconds, is a proven way to protect yourself from the germs that cause colds and the flu. To keep your skin from drying out use a moisturizing soap that contains ingredients such as calendula or shea butter. Another option is Castile soap, which has antibacterial properties.
Skin is your body’s largest organ—on average adults have about 8 pounds and 22 square feet of skin. Skin protects your body from the sun’s rays, extreme temperatures, chemicals and bacteria. To keep skin healthy in winter, exfoliate (I personally love exfoliating gloves) and apply a rich jar moisturizer, which will contain less water than a pump. Don’t forget sunscreen, especially when there is snow and winter glare.
Drinking plenty of fluids in winter is just as important as it is in summer because dryer air can cause dehydration, which can leave you tired and more susceptible to colds and the flu. Staying hydrated helps your body maintain its proper temperature and can help prevent weight gain and fluid retention. In contrast to summer, you don’t perspire as much and may not feel thirsty, so remember to drink fluids throughout the day, especially before and after exercise.
To make consuming water tasty and fun, buy a beautiful water bottle and add a few drops of a calorie-free water enhancer. On chilly days stay hydrated by sipping bone broth and teas. Consuming bone broth has numerous benefits including supporting the immune system, protecting joints and improving gut health. Drinking herbal teas that contain warming herbs like burdock, ginseng, licorice, cinnamon and ginger can help you feel cozy and grounded.
4. Perform neti
Developed in India hundreds of years ago, neti is a type of nasal irrigation using a special pot and saline solution that can help reduce cold and flu symptoms and relieve nasal dryness and sinus headaches. One study showed strong evidence that nasal irrigation can help improve allergies, sinus symptoms and asthma.
5. Eat right
Winter is the time of year to nourish your body with warming, comforting foods without overdoing calories. Cut back on raw foods like salads and fruit and eat more soups, stews, cooked vegetables and whole grains. Rather than reaching for sweets, which can decrease energy levels and increase your waistline, enjoy roasted squash and root vegetables or a comforting bowl of oatmeal.
Make sure to consume plenty of fiber to promote healthy digestion, keep blood sugar levels even and increase satiety so you don’t overeat and gain weight. To support your immune system eat produce rich in vitamin C. Good choices include leafy greens (kale, chard and spinach), sweet potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes and citrus fruits.
Even if your diet is excellent, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement is a smart way to ensure that you get all the macronutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Because there’s less sunlight and you don’t spend as much time outside, it’s especially important to get enough vitamin D. (About 42% of American adults are deficient in vitamin D.) The recommended intake is 400–800 IU/day, but some studies suggest higher amounts may be needed to maintain optimal levels.
A number of herbs also may help strengthen your immune system and help prevent or decrease the length of colds and the flu, including echinacea, elderberry, nettle, garlic, ginger and olive tree leaf extract. Taking a good probiotic can improve gut health and may offer more defense against the common cold and flu.
Yes, it’s easy to skip your workouts in cold, dark, slushy weather, but ditch the excuses, because exercising is one of the best ways to stay healthy in winter. Besides helping maintain weight, exercise reduces stress, boosts mood and enhances the immune system. But don’t overdo it. Make sure to balance rigorous aerobic activities like jogging, spinning or cross-country skiing with rejuvenating, relaxing practices such as yoga and tai chi.
While humans don’t hibernate like bears, winter does influence your sleep cycle. As the days get darker and shorter you actually want to sleep more, but it’s harder to sleep well. That’s because your body produces less melatonin, a hormone that tells you it’s time for bed. To improve sleep: Avoid caffeine in the afternoon, create a sleep routine, turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime, keep your room cool and dark and don’t eat anything three to four hours before dozing off. Take time to relax before bed with a cup of caffeine-free tea that contains calming herbs like valerian, chamomile or skullcap.
Follow these strategies and not only will you stay healthy this winter, but you’ll also provide your body with the support it needs to transition easily from winter to spring.
- Accessed November 13, 2018: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits/index.htm
- Accessed November 13, 2018: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm
- Forrest KY1, Stuhldreher WL: (2011) Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res., 31: 48–54.
- Rabago, D., Guerard, E., & Bukstein, D. (2008). Nasal irrigation for chronic sinus symptoms in patients with allergic rhinitis, asthma, and nasal polyposis: a hypothesis generating study. WMJ : official publication of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin, 107(2), 69–75.