Health & Wellness Articles

5 Secrets to Winter Health and Energy

Stay Healthy and Happy to Weather the Season

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Here are five secrets to achieve winter health and energy all season long.
  1. Do everything in your power to avoid getting sick.  There is nothing that will sap your energy more than being ill. Colds and flu seem to spike during the winter months. Caused by viruses, they are spread mostly by placing our virus-contaminated hands to our faces.  So the number one line of defense is to wash your hands, including under the nails and in between fingers, for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water—and to do so frequently.  Carry hand sanitizer gels in your car, briefcase and pocketbook for times when you can't wash your hands. 

    Boost your immune system to keep your defenses high by getting plenty of sleep and drinking lots of water, which will help keep nasal passages hydrated. Eat nourishing, vitamin packed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, and lean protein.  Keep up your exercise program and discuss with your doctor whether or not getting a flu shot makes sense for you.  Research has shown that individuals who practice these healthy habits get sick less often.
     
  2.  Maintain and shake up your exercise routine.  Exercise has been shown to prevent depression and lift the moods of those feeling down.  It also helps keep your immune system working efficiently.  Maintaining your exercise routine will offset some of the extra calories from seasonal treats and celebrations as well.

    The best way to bust through a plateau and continue to increase your fitness capacity throughout the winter is to change your exercise routine.  Winter is the perfect opportunity to try a different type of machine or exercise class at the gym.  Borrow DVD's from the library or Netflix, and try a home workout in your cozy living room.  If you are really adventurous, embrace the winter and try a cold-weather sport such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice-skating.  Unless the conditions are icy, excessively windy or cold, there will be many days when you will be able to enjoy outdoor exercise all winter long. Invest in some gloves, a fleece headband, tights and turtlenecks made by the many all-weather sports clothing manufacturers.  You just might find a reason to look forward to winter after all.    
     
  3.  Enjoy a variety of winter foods.  Although summer offers a bounty of fresh fruit and veggies at affordable prices (think melons, berries and tomatoes), many produce items ripen in winter.  From hearty root vegetables to bright, sweet citrus fruits, winter produce offers a surprising range of flavors.  Winter squashes such as acorn, butternut and spaghetti, are low in calories, high in health-promoting vitamins, and easy to cook.  Apples and many citrus fruits such as clementines and grapefruits are often at their sweetest when temperatures are cool.  Experiment with vegetables that you may not have tried cooking before, such as beets, broccoli rabe or Brussels sprouts. 

    Since the cold weather probably has you staying home more, take time to prepare homemade soups or stews.  Make some baked apples for a wonderfully nutritious low-calorie dessert or snack that also fills your home with a warm and delightful aroma.  If you don't already own one, consider investing in a slow cooker.  Throw together a few choice ingredients and you'll be thrilled to come home to a fully-prepared dinner.  Lighten up old favorite comfort food recipes, or find new ones at www.sparkrecipes.com.  
     
  4. Think light and bright. Research from the National Institute of Mental Health has found that exposure to bright light in the early morning can be a powerful, fast and effective treatment for seasonal depression.  There's no reason to think it wouldn't help those of us who experience the winter blahs!  As soon as you wake, turn on bright lights in your home, open the curtains and lift the shades. When participating in outdoor exercise, if possible, do so in the early morning hours—or at least during the day before the sun goes down.  If you are lucky enough to own a fireplace, use it often.  The warmth from the fire and the flickering light is calming and relaxing.  Even if you don't have access to a fireplace, try scented candles and see how it warms up your home and improves your mood. 

    If you find yourself still feeling unusually blue and lethargic despite your efforts to get enough light, talk to your doctor about your feelings and discuss a trial with light therapy.  There is absolutely no reason to feel sad until springtime.
     
  5. Find your inner child and invite him/her out to play.  When we were kids, there was nothing that made us happier than a snowstorm.  School would be cancelled, giving us an excuse to sleep in, watch TV for hours, go sledding or build a snowman.  My siblings and I would play scrabble, monopoly, and work on jigsaw puzzles—when we weren't outside in the snow.
     
    As adults, a snowstorm can mean lost income, kids or pets tracking snow into our houses, walkways to shovel and, generally, a major hassle.  But what if we gave ourselves permission to act like a child again?  Instead of fretting over all the problems the winter has caused, why not find the opportunities we may overlook at other times of the year?  How about we slow down our crazy life of always needing to be doing something "productive" and engage in some fun and meaningful activities?  Put on your boots and gloves, and head out into the snow to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, or make snow angels.  Find the board games and puzzles, and enjoy some interactive play.  Or, just curl up under your favorite blanket and read a great book as the snowflakes fall outside your window, blanketing the world in a beautiful winter white.  The cold can be a great excuse to stay home and relax, find some much needed down time, and enjoy things we don't normally take the time to do—if you choose to view it that way.
 
With a shift in your mindset, winter does not have to be a time of lethargy, illness or unhappiness.  Let it be the season to partake in seasonal pleasures that you get to enjoy, rather than a season that you have to endure.
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About The Author

Ellen Goldman Ellen Goldman
Ellen Goldman has bachelor's and master's degrees in health and physical education. An AFAA-certified personal trainer and certified wellness coach, she is also the founder EnerG Coaching, LLC. Through one-on-one and group sessions, Ellen helps individuals make positive lifestyle changes, lose weight, manage stress and attain work-life balance. Visit her at www.EnerGcoaching.com.

Member Comments

  • Martial arts work really well inside. All you need is a little floor space. A dummy and a baseball bat can do wonders for your mood, especially if you can paint the dummy to look like your boss. Or maybe your boss already looks like a dummy... - 2/1/2014 7:03:38 PM
  • Maybe it's just because I am getting older that even winter goes by fast, but I have also incorporated many of the above suggestions. I am a nurse in a family practice office and see a lot of illness but am seldom Iill myself which I attribute to lots of exercise and sweating during spin class, getting outside for exercise on my days off, eating lots of fruits and veggies (and adding grapefruit if I think I may be coming down with something) - 1/18/2014 12:15:04 PM
  • grammar police: its 'myriad food-centric holidays' not 'myriad OF'. Now i'm done being a jerk and I'll move on :D - 1/17/2014 3:24:52 PM
  • I love winter and go out in the snow all the time....and find myself getting sick less often than other adults. I don't use winter as an excuse to not be outside and I always make sure I'm drinking enough and eating a lot of citrus. I've had the flu about four times in my thirty years and have never had a flu shot.

    I definitely don't have SAD. I find summer far more depressing because I hate going out in the heat and am stuck inside on any 90F + days (thankfully that's not all of them here). I try to spend as much of summer as possible in the water..... - 1/17/2014 1:03:21 PM
  • Thanks for sharing - 12/29/2013 6:23:06 AM
  • ELECTRALYTE
    Oh yeah, that was a problem when I lived in Seattle for sure.
    Since I moved back to No. California it rains a lot but after the monsoon it gets gorgeous and sunny for a few days. Even on the beach!
    Good suggestions! - 2/4/2013 3:10:27 PM
  • Luckily I don't think I have any issues with SAD. I do have depression, but I don't really feel like the depression gets worse in the winter time - 2/4/2013 1:09:08 PM
  • Wow! What a great article!

    The sentence How about we slow down our crazy life of always needing to be doing something "productive" and engage in some fun and meaningful activities? really spoke to me because I am always doing something - laundry, cooking, cleaning.

    I need to engage in some fun and meaningful activities and be less productive! I give myself permission! - 2/4/2013 11:05:14 AM
  • Skijor! - 2/4/2013 10:27:43 AM
  • KEEPFIT2013
    Thanks for the tips. I just recently went cross country skiing with my daughter after many years (since the kids left home) and realized how energizing and invigorating this is. We don't always have snow here on the coast but my work is taking me further afield so I look forward to more fun in the snow!!
    I also agree that Vitamin D is important and getting out in the daylight for my walks. Lunch hour is a good time so I am making this a priority.
    Thanks again! - 2/4/2013 10:27:28 AM
  • K_STEFANIAK
    Great tips!! I have also found that maintaining higher levels of Vitamin D through supplementation helps me avoid the winter doldrums. I live in Illinois and we have one gray day after another so there little to no opportunity to get Vitamin D from sunlight. You can have your doctor check your level with a simple blood test and then determine how much you need to take. Keeping Vitamin D levels up can have a positive impact on your mood and your immune system. - 2/4/2013 10:11:48 AM
  • I never realized how much sunlight affected me until I moved to Texas from Ohio. When I was there, I felt like I was on a permanent high because of all the sunlight! Then, when I moved to Rhode Island, I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the winters. Turns out this area is almost as sunny as Texas is, so even though it's cold, I can enjoy it because of the sun.

    Unfortunately, I busted up my foot doing too much exercise (!!) and now I can't go out and enjoy the snow and the mountains and learn how to snowboard with my husband. I used to love skiing as a kid, but since he doesn't know how to do either, I figured we could learn snowboarding together since we'd both be new. But now I can't do that, and it's depressing me! I want nothing more than to go sledding on fresh snow or sliding down a mountain with something strapped to my feet! - 1/23/2012 4:53:29 PM
  • I am so fortunate to be able to spend the winters in Florida where most of the time I do water aerobics outdoors along with walking and using an Exercise Room.

    - 1/23/2012 10:24:26 AM
  • I love winter. I grow organic vegetables all summer to sell a farmers markets. So winter is my garden's downtime and mine. We both refresh and regenerate. I love my woodstove and the warm waves it throws off, till I have to walk around in a t-shirt! I love pulling on socks, hats, boots, gloves to go outside to ice skate or walk the dog and watch her leap through the snowdrifts. I love sitting on the couch with my nose in a book while the teapot on the woodstove hums and the big flakes drift thickly past the windows. I love a brilliant blue sky with gray and black branches etched upon it, with a pure white blanket below. I guess about the only thing I don't like about winter are -- other drivers on the road! :D And before it's even over, my seed catalogues come and I'm already in the mood for the next season. Wonderful winter.
    - 1/23/2012 9:35:35 AM
  • AZURE-SKY
    Since moving from the Northeast to the Southwest several years ago, my SAD has drastically diminished. On the rare gloomy days, cloudy and a little rain, we get in the winter, I have noticed that my mood changes, and I don't have as much energy. Fortunately, those days are few and far between.

    I've switched some of the lightbulbs in my house to "daylight" bulbs. They are a starker white light, and really brighten the rooms since they don't have that yellowish cast to them. You can get them in flourescent to fit any light socket. Another advantage to them is they provide a better light when doing any type of close work, like knitting, crocheting or needlework. - 1/18/2012 2:58:35 PM

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