Winterize Your Life

… for a Healthier, Happier You

Winter is upon us once again. The days are shorter, the air is colder and the need to increase our self-care is here. The gray weather, freezing temperatures and shockingly cold wind can wreak havoc on our health if we’re not careful. Even though humans have learned to adapt to harsh weather, there are still steps we can take to reduce the impact winter weather has on us. Good self care can have a positive effect on our health, our immune system and even our emotional balance.

Psychological studies are now showing that, contrary to what we might think, colder weather and the winter months do NOT necessarily lead to depression or a lowering of mood. Even though the weather may be gray and chilly, the latest science suggests that we are better able to deal with this than we give ourselves credit for, both in terms of our mood and our basic brain functioning! In fact, a study published in the late 1990s in Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that our mental function might actually be ENHANCED during the winter months.

One way to improve our physical and mental health during the winter months is through healthier eating. Even small changes can make a big difference! For example, simply enjoying the benefits of yogurt can help prevent osteoporosis, reduce your risk of high blood pressure and even aid in gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and constipation.

Another simple yet healthy eating habit is to go slow and consume smaller portions. Enjoy your favorite foods, but in moderation. This will help your overall digestion as well as help you avoid heartburn. During the winter months, we tend to feel hungrier. We can respond to this by eating lighter and eating in smaller quantities. We can even help keep our bodies warmer by increasing the amount of antioxidants we eat, such as potatoes, blueberries and even pumpkin!

Staying hydrated is just as important in winter as it is in summer. The dryer air inside as well as outside during the colder months can make us more prone to airborne illnesses. Due to the lower humidity, the mucus membranes of our nose, throat and lungs tend to dry out just as our skin does. Increasing our fluid intake as well as using a humidifier can help keep our mucus membranes moisturized, thus reducing the chance of getting sick. Using moisturizer daily on our entire body also will help keep the drying effects of winter at bay.

Staying active is another important way to improve and maintain our health and well-being during the colder months of winter. The cold can make us not want to get out of our warm, cozy beds, but regular activity, no matter how light or mild, can help boost our metabolism, improve our digestion, and even brighten our moods! It’s easy to get outside and get moving during the spring and summer months, but when winter rolls around, it’s a different story. The world seems to close shop and go to sleep for a few months. Fight the urge to hole up for the winter by finding similar activities to your summer ones that you can enjoy. Try to make the activity something that will get you outside, preferably during a time when you can get some sun on face. Just remember to wear sunscreen to protect your skin!

Sunshine plays a very powerful role in providing us with vitamin D, as well as helping to regulate our body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. According to Daylight Hours Explorer, the shift in available sunlight in the United States is dramatic from summer to winter. In June, there are 15 hours of sunlight, whereas in December, there are only nine, which helps explain why some people may feel more sluggish and “blue” in the winter. With that in mind, its important to be aware of your mood and mental health during the colder, darker months. Stay social to avoid “cabin fever” and stay connected with friends. Plan potluck dinners and other activities to make sure you and your friends and family get together beyond the traditional holiday gatherings.

Everyone is familiar with the benefits of winterizing our cars and homes in preparation for the colder months. This year, let’s not overlook ourselves.  Consider winterizing your body and mind for a healthier, happier you!

Mina Acquaye, R.N., B.S.N., M.P.H, CHCE, is founder, CEO and administrator of Excell Home Care, Hospice and Personal Care in south Oklahoma City.