As winter blankets the world in colder weather and shorter days, it brings about not only a change in weather but also a shift in our body’s needs and responses. The chilly temperatures, decreased daylight, and holiday festivities can impact our health in various ways. To thrive during the winter months, it’s essential to understand these seasonal changes and adopt strategies that support your body’s well-being. In this blog post, we’ll explore the health changes that occur during winter and provide actionable tips to help you stay healthy and vibrant.
Understanding Winter Health Changes
Winter often sees an increase in respiratory infections, such as the flu and the common cold. The cold and dry air, along with spending more time indoors in close proximity to others, create an environment conducive to the spread of viruses. This winter we are seeing a “tripledemic” of RSV, influenza, and COVID. To bolster your immune system, focus on eating a balanced nutrient-rich diet, staying hydrated, and obtaining adequate sleep (about 8 hours). Vitamin c and zinc supplements may bolster your immune system if you are not obtaining these nutrients naturally in your diet. Vitamin C is commonly obtained from eating fruit, and some zinc-containing foods include nuts, beans, and meat. One of the best ways to protect yourself from the viruses prevalent this time of year is to stay up-to-date on your vaccinations. Flu and COVID vaccines are recommended for the vast majority of people, and for those 60 years and older, the RSV vaccine is available now as well.
Asthma flairs are also much more common in these colder months. If you have asthma, make sure you have some albuterol ready in case you start developing wheezing and shortness of breath. Seek medical assistance if you are having to use albuterol multiple times per week to keep your symptoms under control.
Changes in Mood
Winter seasonality is associated with changes in some mental health conditions. For example, the reduced exposure to sunlight during winter can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression that occurs in the winter. Combatting SAD involves increasing your exposure to natural light, incorporating regular exercise into your routine, and considering light therapy lamps that mimic sunlight. Studies also find that for some people with bipolar disorder, winter can be a trigger for recurrence of depressive symptoms. It is important you reach out to your provider if you notice yourself experienceing depressive symptoms such as persistent fatigue, sadness, and/or inability to enjoy yourself.
Dry Skin and Hydration
Cold, windy weather can leave your skin feeling dry and irritated. To combat winter skin issues, apply a thick moisturizer to your skin after bathing or showering, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Humidifiers can also add moisture to the air, helping to soothe dry skin. On a similar note, the dry air makes some people prone to nosebleeds. Many of these seasonal nosebleeds can be remedied by again using a humidifier or over the counter saline spray.
Ways to Support Your Body During Winter
Winter is the perfect time to indulge in nourishing, seasonal foods. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet. Foods rich in vitamin D, such as fish or fortified milk, orange juice, and cereals can be particularly beneficial as sunlight exposure may be limited. Alcohol also makes a regular appearance in the holiday festivities, but it is good to stay mindful of how it affects the body in cold temperatures. It generates the feeling of warmth, but we know that its actual effect is to lower your core body temperature. Limiting alcohol also has benefits in improving mental health, lowering your blood pressure, and keeping your liver and pancreas healthy.
While it might be tempting to reach for warm, comforting beverages like coffee and cocoa, don’t forget to stay hydrated with water. Cold weather can be deceptively dehydrating, and maintaining adequate hydration is crucial for overall health. Bored of plain water? Add some frozen fruit for extra flavor.
Physical activity can be helpful for combating holiday stress and boosting your immune system. Find indoor workouts that you enjoy, such as yoga, Pilates, or other home exercises. If weather permits, consider outdoor activities like winter sports to soak in the benefits of fresh air and exercise simultaneously.
Incorporate stress-reducing activities like meditation and deep breathing into your daily routine to keep your immune system strong. The winter months can be difficult with holiday preparations and the challenges of inclement weather. Taking time to relax and center yourself can positively impact both your mental and physical well-being.
The longer nights of winter provide an opportunity for more restorative sleep. Ensure you get enough sleep by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and optimizing your sleep environment. Quality sleep is essential for immune function, mood regulation, and overall health.
With the increased risk of viral infections, practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and staying home when you’re feeling unwell. These simple habits can significantly reduce the spread of winter illnesses.
Winter can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation. Make an effort to maintain social connections, whether through virtual meetings, phone calls, or small gatherings. Social support is crucial for mental health, and staying connected can provide a sense of warmth and comfort during the colder months.
Embracing winter wellness involves recognizing the unique challenges that the season brings and taking proactive steps to support your body and mind. By nourishing yourself with a nutrient-rich diet, staying hydrated, engaging in regular exercise, and incorporating stress-reducing practices, you can navigate the winter months with resilience and vitality. Remember, each season offers an opportunity for self-care and growth, and winter is no exception. Prioritize your well-being, and let the beauty of the season inspire you to create healthy habits that last all year round.