Maintaining proper diet and exercise are important all year long, including during the winter season. The shorter days and cold weather that winter brings can make it challenging to stay active and eat healthy. Fortunately, there are ways to help our bodies adjust to the change in season and stay healthy.
• Wash your hands. Being confined indoors with others increases our exposure to colds and the flu, and traveling exposes us to new viruses. Hand washing is the most effective way to ward off the spread of most viral diseases. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer for times when you can’t wash your hands.
• Get a flu shot. Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly adapting flu viruses. Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, last year’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s viruses.
• Eat healthy. When it’s cold and dark outside, it can be tempting to fill up on unhealthy comfort food, but it’s important that you still keep your diet healthy by including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. If you’re feeling down, lethargic, and sluggish, you might think chocolate, cookies, and sweets will help, but unfortunately, sugar peps you up only briefly. It causes a spike in your blood glucose level, and then crashes back down, causing you to get tired, hungry, and listless. The same goes for foods that are high in fats and carbohydrates. When you find yourself craving a sugary treat, try a juicy clementine or sweet dried fruits such as dates or raisins.
• Drink up. You have probably heard how important it is to drink plenty of fluids when you are ill, but it’s just as important for preventing illness. Adequate hydration keeps the tissues of the respiratory system moist, which prevents microbes from settling in. Hydration also helps the immune system work properly. Opt for water.
• Exercise. Exercise is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle, whatever the season. Regular exercise has been proven to boost your immune system and make you feel more energetic. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, a hormone that gives you a natural sense of well-being. It also reduces the production of stress hormones such as cortisol. A recent study showed that men with higher levels of activity experienced a 35% reduction in the number of colds, and women had 20% fewer colds.
• Get enough sleep. This is vital; lack of sleep can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure, weight gain, and a decrease in your immune system’s power to fight off illness. See your primary-care provider if you have trouble sleeping more than three nights a week. Your sleep issues could be caused by an underlying health problem.
• Don’t smoke. Studies show that smokers have more frequent and severe colds. Second-hand smoke also makes people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. Talk to your primary-care provider if you smoke, to help you quit. Get the support of friends and family to help you succeed.
• Know your vitamin D level. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, has been known to help support the immune system and is essential for bone building, joint health, blood-sugar control, positive mood, and more. Talk to your doctor about your vitamin-D levels, whether you should have them checked, and if you should take a vitamin-D supplement.
• Don’t ignore winter blues. Socializing is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues. Because it gets dark at 4 p.m., it’s tempting to hibernate and avoid going out in the winter. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and maintain your favorite social activities.