Winter wellness recommendations often include getting a flu shot, dressing appropriately for the weather, and washing hands frequently to avoid transmitting germs.
But if you want to feel and be your best through this season and beyond, a few additions to your daily routine also can boost your winter wellness and take your health and well-being to the next level. Here are six areas worthy of attention for optimal winter wellness:
1. Eat fresh, seasonal food that benefits your immune system.
Vitamins C, E, and D, zinc, selenium, and other nutrients can benefit your immune system. But nutritionists say your overall dietary pattern is more influential for your immune system than is simply loading up on individual supplements.
And the best way to get those nutrients through food is to minimize highly processed foods (typically those that come in boxes, bags, or cans, plus fast foods) in favor of simple, whole food ingredients.
The typical Western diet often contains high quantities of refined sugar and red meat, and low levels of fruits and vegetables. But that dietary pattern can lead to chronic inflammation and lowered immunity.
For a balanced eating plan, nutritionists recommend aiming for five to seven servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily to provide immune-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, plus lean protein and healthy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, and black beans, all of which provide fiber and digest slowly.
Prebiotics – such as mushrooms, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, herbs, and spices – also are important to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping probiotics such as yogurt do their job.
And, by eating what’s in season, you’ll also boost your nutrition. Seasonal foods are fresher and more nutrient-dense than ones out of season, because they don’t have to be picked early, stored, then shipped. Find what foods are in season near you with the Seasonal Food Guide.
Finally, it’s important to stay hydrated during winter, even though you’re not sweating as much. It’s still possible to become dehydrated during winter months, and inadequate water intake can lead to a host of health problems. Plain water is best, but there are ways to jazz it up.
2. Keep moving and stay active.
It’s common with less sunlight and colder weather to want to skip the workout or walk. So what are some other options? One is to work out at home with virtual exercise classes or with some basic equipment such as a treadmill and dumbbells. Try body-weight exercises such as sit ups and push ups; they require no equipment and can be completed in brief periods throughout the day.
And some physical activity is better than none.
Another option is to add extra movement to your daily routine. For example, park as far away as you can from the store entrance when you go shopping. Take a walk around the block on your lunch hour. And when the weather is nice, seize the opportunity to get outside. You can search online for a park or greenway near you, or use a site like AllTrails or Park Finder.
For substantial health benefits, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Or, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, engage in an equivalent combination of the two. Also, it’s important to get in all types of activity: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
3. Settle in for a long winter wellness nap.
In the winter, as in other seasons, it’s important to get enough sleep. But not too much. Adults need 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night to function well. We don’t need more sleep in the winter than we do at other times, though we might feel like it. The lack of sunlight makes your body produce more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy.
Before the incandescent lightbulb gave us the ability to keep our brains active into the evening and disrupt our circadian rhythm, winter gave humans more time to wind down and rest. Now, it takes intentional effort to get a good night’s sleep. Practicing good sleep hygiene, including keeping a consistent sleep/wake cycle, can help.
Related, yet different from sleep, is resting. Winter also can be a time to slow down and rest more often: listening to music, reading, taking a bath, practicing focused breathing, and meditating. In short, taking good care of you.
4. Get some sun.
Sunlight has been shown to help improve mood by boosting the release of a hormone called serotonin. Exposure to sunlight is especially important to help treat those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression. Exposure to sunlight also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which controls your body clock and affects sleep habits. A dose of natural morning light can provide an energy boost. So one idea is to open your curtains and blinds as soon as you wake up, and also get outside for a few minutes each day.
5. Protect your skin.
Drinking water, as mentioned earlier, will help keep your skin moist and healthy through the winter. Also, moisturize your skin daily and use sunscreen whenever you’re outside during the day. Exposure to the sun’s rays, even in the winter, can still have damaging effects on your skin. To ensure adequate protection, choose a sunscreen that has an SPF factor of 30 or above. To find skincare products with few to no toxins, search the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database.
6. Prioritize your mental wellness.
Wellness includes prioritizing your mental health, and not just in winter – year-round. Mitigating stress (one of the four pillars of health) is key, as is paying attention to your own inner voice and maintaining positive relationships. It is possible to build your mental strength in winter, and it’s important to seek help when you need it.
Making changes in any of these areas can boost your wellness this winter. So where would you like to start? Small changes add up, so there’s no need to attempt them all at once. Pick one area, and one action step to start with. Where do you most want to begin?
Amy Hoogervorst offers grace and space for a healthier you as a national board-certified health and wellness coach. If you need help fitting healthier habits into your life for more energy, focus, and fun, schedule a free discovery call with Amy to learn more about how health coaching might benefit you.