With what feels like a seemingly endless cold spell ahead, ’tis the season to revisit your wellness regime. While the winter months tend to hinder our health goals, whatever those may be, through good food, fitness, sleep, and self-care choices, you can stay fighting fit for the long freeze ahead. Read on for expert-approved tips that will help you weather the winter months.
Load up on healthy fats, such as avocados, fatty fish, dark chocolate, chia seeds, whole eggs, extra virgin olive oils, nuts, and even cheese to help beat winter fatigue, advises Vesna Skul, MD, an internal medicine and women’s health specialist, and Life Stage Health Coach at TONE Networks. “These healthy fats act as natural anti-inflammatories, helping with everything from joint aches and pains to brain function to mood enhancement, which is particularly good during this time of year when 1 in 3 people, mostly young adults and women, experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” she says.
Also helpful? Fiber-rich foods. “If you get caught in the seasonal sugar spiral, adding a little fiber, such as psyllium seed husk, to water and drinking it before meals can help you rebalance,” says Annie Kay, MS, RDN, an integrated nutritionist, master yoga teacher, plant alchemist, and author of Every Bite Is Divine. The sensation of fullness fiber provides will decrease your cravings and help you stay away from holiday fare, too, Dr. Skul adds.
“The winter months are a great time to enjoy the spices and condiments that provide anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting benefits,” says Dr. Skul. She recommends cooking with turmeric, which is well known for its immune support and heart benefits; spicing your tea or coffee with cinnamon to prevent blood sugar spikes; and adding onions and garlic to sautéed or and steamed dishes, as they both have antibacterial and antiviral properties. For those dreary mornings we dread, Kay is a fan of spicy juice shots with apple cider vinegar, ginger, and spices like turmeric and cayenne. “They pack a nutritional punch just right for winter months,” she says.
It’s too cold, it’s too dark, you’re too tired. Sound familiar? Don’t allow the months ahead to make you fall off the winter wellness wagon. “Exercise will help increase your energy and help fight the risk of getting ill,” says Skul. “Make time for at least three workouts a week and walk outdoors every day for at least 15 to 30 minutes.” While staying home is warm and cozy, it’s also important to bundle up, brave the elements, and socialize. Spend time with family and friends, look for outdoor activities or volunteer at homeless or animal shelter, suggests Dr. Skul. Being cooped up indoors for too long can take its toll, both physically and mentally.
Support of the immune system is key, as are the supplements that help our brain function more optimally during the shorter days when we’re more likely to get the winter blues,” says Dr. Skul. Vitamin C and B vitamins are helpful for both immunity and energy, while the daily consumption of Omega 3s and vitamin D3 will help ward off symptoms of SAD. “Generally speaking, most people could benefit from a vitamin D supplement in the winter, but it really depends on your serum level, which is a great test to add to your blood draw during your annual physical,” adds Kay.
“Cold nights make you much more likely to indulge in hearty foods,” says Dr. Skul. “While they may rank high on the comfort scale, combined with less exercise, these are easily responsible for the typical 5 to 10lbs of weight gain during the winter.” Try substituting pasta with squash noodles and adding cauliflower to mashed potatoes for a healthy twist on classic comforts. Dr. Skul also suggests creating cozy soups without any cream, using veggies, organic broth, and seasonings, blending until creamy.
“We naturally crave more sleep in the winter, as the days are shorter and we’re exposed to less sunlight, so enforcing a good sleep routine is important,” says Dr. Skul. “Try going to sleep before 11 p.m. because after that, cortisol surges and can keep you awake — and with this comes many undesirable effects, from metabolic dysregulation to weight gain.” Switch off your devices an hour before bedtime, have a snooze-inducing snack like almonds, walnuts, tart cherries or cherry juice, and meditate. Simply listening to soothing music can also be very therapeutic and even lowers your blood pressure, Dr. Skul explains. In the morning, she suggests using a light box to wake up, like this one by Philips, which will help you beat the winter blues, especially if you spend most of your time in an artificially lit environment.
“The cold, ambient air and hot, dry central heat of our homes and offices can wreak havoc on our skin’s moisture levels,” says Dr. Skul. “Use only mild cleansers as you need to preserve the skin’s natural oils, switch to a richer cream moisturizer, and don’t forget to wear SPF.” And for a super-soothing treat, Kay suggests giving yourself a traditional Ayurvedic massage. “I warm a bit of sesame or jojoba oil and massage it over my face, which feels as heavenly as it sounds,” she says. “It’s warming, calming, and fantastic for treating dry, winter skin.”
The highs of holiday season followed by the slumps of January can really take its toll on our mental health. Making sure you have plenty of me-time is not an indulgence, but rather a self-care necessity. “Holiday cheer doesn’t come cheap: We stress over work-life balance, juggle a busy schedule, worry about finances and gift-giving and travel,” says Dr. Skul. “This causes the stress hormone cortisol to spike, upsetting our sleep and sabotaging our waistlines.” While stress will always surround us, our reaction to it can be modified by some relatively simple lifestyle choices. If you aren’t into meditation or yoga, simply surround yourself with positive people or pick up a new hobby.
With the dark and dreary days, it’s tempting to fuel up on those seasonal caffeinated treats (we’re looking at you, Starbucks). “These specialty coffee shop drinks, which do taste so good in the cold air, are often nothing but sugar and fat calories,” says Dr. Skul. Try a herbal tea instead, adding fresh ginger slices, valerian root, honey, lemon or spices. Kay’s go-to is warm tulsi tea. “Tulsi is a type of basil revered in the yoga tradition and whose name translates to ‘incomparable one’ for its ability to bestow health and beauty,” she says. “From a Western nutrition perspective, tulsi contains phytonutrients that make it an adaptogen, so its helps with everything from tamping inflammation to enhancing immune health.”