Wellness tips to take the chill out of winter
Bring out the cosy duvet and fuzzy bed socks: winter is here. As the sun sets earlier and the temperatures drop, many of us soothe ourselves with unhealthy comfort foods and hibernate. But we aren’t bears that check out until spring: we humans need to keep our bodies moving and nourished daily. There are simple things we can do to keep moving and get the right nutrients to boost immunity and moods this season.
When our body temperatures drop, eating and drinking habits change. There’s a biological reason for this: we will eat more to boost our body temperature and produce inner heat. You may find when you exercise outdoors in winter and shiver, you race to find warm food. We burn up to 400 calories by shivering. So we naturally want to eat more in winter, but our food choices make the difference between extra kilos and fitting into summer swimwear. The opposite of this is our sense of thirst decreases in winter because we aren’t sweating as regularly, so we tend to drink less and become dehydrated. We may feel more fatigued and experience mind fog from loss of fluids.
Moods in winter may be affected by seasonal affective disorder, a type of seasonal mood, in which less sunshine contributes to low moods and lethargy. We may not be getting enough of the hormone vitamin D which comes mainly from the sun. Optimal vitamin D levels are important for functions including moods, immunity, hormone production, strong bones and muscle recovery. Early nights mean less time spent outdoors in the sunshine in winter, which may leave us feeling down, so we tend to boost moods with alcohol, caffeine and junk foods. While these provide momentary ‘pick me ups’, they do not provide sustained energy and mood support.
Given our bodies crave more calories in darker months, healthy winter foods could include:
- Hearty soups and stews, made with a variety of vegetables. By filling up on a variety of vegetables, we feel fuller for longer. Try turkey, beef or vegetarian chili for a satisfying dish.
- Vitamin C-rich citrus fruits for extra immune-boosting benefits. Grapefruit and mandarins are great winter choices, which can be juiced or added to smoothies, or even squeezed into hot mugs of water and sipped for an invigorating start to the day.
- Healthy fats, such as olive or avocado oil drizzled on vegetables, or white fish or salmon steamed and topped with butter and herbs with steamed veggies on the side. Nuts, boiled eggs and seeds are healthy snacks for in between meals. Omega 3 from oil, fish and nuts help supports our brains, hearts and may even help deter winter dry skin and eczema.
- Root vegetables like kumara, celeriac, garlic, onion, parsnips, beets, carrots and baby potatoes. These ground-based veggies are full of fibre, antioxidants, vitamin C, B and A for immune system support.
Because we have less thirst, winter drinks could include:
- Fresh slices of ginger or lemon in hot water with a teaspoon of manuka honey for vitamin C and antibacterial properties, and a pinch of cayenne pepper for metabolism boost. Ginger is also wonderful for our circulation.
- Hot turmeric milk – with almond and coconut milk, a dash of turmeric, and a pinch of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg – is a body warming drink with antioxidant properties. In colder months, joints and arthritis may feel stiffer, but turmeric and ginger have anti-inflammatory properties and may help make joints more mobile.
- Dried rosehip and hibiscus tea contains flavonoids, antioxidants and high levels of vitamin C, making this an excellent choice for immunity support.
Winter nutritional supplements recommended:
- Vitamin D, 5000 IUD daily is my recommendation for the winter months, due to the lack of skin exposure to sun. This is important for everyone, but particularly critical for darker skin as there is a tendency to absorb less vitamin D naturally from the sun with more melanin pigment in the skin.
- If not consuming fatty fish at least twice weekly, 2000mg of pure omega 3 fish oil is recommended for its potential boost to brain, heart and skin health in winter. Topical application of plant or mineral-based skincare helps to restore moisture due to the impact of dry air from heaters.
- Zinc, vitamin C, astralagus and echinacea can all be helpful immune supporting nutrients.
Winter exercise tips include:
- If getting outside, layers of clothing to keep body heat in and remove as you warm up. Amazingly our bodies can heat up to tropical level by wearing the right clothing during aerobic exercise even in the coldest weather.
- Interval training is a good option to help contribute to weight loss and boosting testosterone for men. This means jogging at a good pace to get the heart moving for 1 minute, then walking at a moderate pace for 3 minutes. Repeat three times. Incorporate a 10-minute warm up and cool down of gentle walking to this 30-minute total programme. Try this 3 non-consecutive times weekly.
- If you prefer to be active inside, buy a yoga mat and search on YouTube for free workouts, or seek out a good set of weights you can store in the back bedroom or garage and do a 30-minute resistance set. Music motivated? Turn up some of your favourite beats and boogie for a good 20-30 minutes straight to burn some serious calories or find your local Zumba class for a more social time.
- For best results, aim for 4-5 times weekly exercise of 30 minutes’ duration.
- Don’t forget if you are about to do aerobic exercise, drink two glasses of water prior to activity and one glass just after to keep hydration in check.
Combine the above tips with 8 hours of sleep nightly, warm baths to support circulation, hot stone massages and saunas, daily pet cuddles, and regular 15-minute mindfulness/meditation practice, and you are on your way to resisting hibernation and choosing the most proactive, healthy winter yet. Keep warm and enjoy!
Kathleen Wills is a natural and integrative medicine specialist. She regularly speaks at corporate and educational organisations and lends her expertise to wellness retreats around New Zealand. This does not substitute for any health advice from your medical professional. She is not a registered GP in New Zealand and as such does not act as your primary health provider. Do not stop taking any medications without first consulting with your qualified medical professional.