Winter can be tough on many people (while others can’t wait for the cold), but if you’re one of those for whom the winter hits the body and mind hard, there are things you can do to protect yourself and help your body to adapt better.
There are a number of factors that make winter especially difficult. The drastic changes in the weather, dropping temperatures, the quickly growing nights, less sunlight, spending more time indoors, and changes in eating habits with shifts in seasonal foods. Winter is a period of hibernation and slowing down, but our lives can’t necessarily adhere to this slow-living lifestyle. We continue to run around, work, and balance too many things. And without the nourishment that the warmer months give us, many can be left feeling exhausted, burnt out, low in mood and generally off in winter. Here’s how to stay healthy in winter.
Support the transition. One of the most difficult times is during the first weeks of weather changes. There’s a sudden yet slow shift in the air, and the onslaught of cold can leave the body vulnerable. During this period it is crucial to eat an easy to digest and nutrient dense diet. The body needs to direct all the energy it can towards supporting the immune system, and digestion takes up an insane amount of energy. This is not the time to be eating raw foods, salads and sushi. You want to aim for nourishing soups, root vegetable purées, soaked and cooked lentils in coconut milk, diced lean protein like chicken and turkey or iron and protein rich legumes, and spices like ginger, cinnamon, curry, cumin, cardamon. These spices in particular can help to boost the immune system, warm the body and help it to adapt to the sudden changes.
Cover up! Your neck, chest, and head in particular (most heat is lost through the head). Leaving these areas vulnerable to the cold while outside means your body needs to dispense a lot of energy to stay warm; energy that should be going to maintaining your immune system. This means that while you’re body is busy trying to regulate its thermostat, that virus you picked up from the subway handle bar is going to have a much better shot at infecting cells before your immune system can get it under control.
Vitamin D3. One of the main reasons illnesses run wild in winter? Lack of vitamin D3. What changes in winter that makes our vitamin D3 levels drop? The lack of sunlight. Our bodies need sunlight in order to synthesize vitamin D3 and this vitamin is absolutely essential for a healthy functioning immune system. Studies have shown that our immune function drops by as much as 50% in the winter months when vitamin D3 levels are low. This vitamin can also help to balance receptors in the brain and restoring low moods.
Exercise. One of the reasons people feel slow and heavier in winter is because they often have fewer opportunities to get outside and really get their bodies moving. In winter the amount we walk and spent outdoors drops dramatically for the most of us. We need to supplement this with more exercise. This doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for a gym, but even integrating yoga, core strengthening exercises and mat exercises done at home into your routine.
Take immune boosting herbs. The changing seasons leave us vulnerable and in addition to integrating a holistic approach, adding some immune boosting herbs to your routine can make a big difference. The difference between fighting off the illness your partner has, or cutting your cold/flu time in half. Plants like echinacea, elderberry (check out my elderberry immune boosting elderberry recipe!), and medicinal mushrooms like reishi, cordyceps, and chaga are known for their powerful immune boosting properties. They’re most often taken as pills, tinctures, or powders (mixed in smoothies for example) during periods of illness, but they can be taken as a preventative measure. When people around you are sick, and you want give yourself extra protection, or if you start to feel yourself coming down with something, these plants can make all the difference.
Pamper yourself. Winter is a time for comfort, rest, and adopting Ayurvedic rituals is a great way to up your self-care routine. While Ayurveda refers to an entire ancient India lifestyle and medicinal approach, there are certain practices central to this body mind belief system like giving yourself massages every day that are very beneficial. For example, while in the shower, use oils like jojoba or coconut to massage and moisturize your skin. Start with your feet and gently work up to your head, massaging all parts of your body with your fingertips. Ayurveda asserts that this practice can help stimulate the lymphatic system, detoxify the blood, calm the nervous system, give energy, and support skin health among other things.
Hydrotherapy. Water therapy can be done at home, all you need is a shower. And the benefits can be especially useful in terms of giving the body a boost during the winter months. Check out my article on how to incorporate hydrotherapy and its benefits at home!
Mood lifting herbs. Low sunlight means seasonal depression in some, and shifts in mood. While my ultimate S.A.D. treatment in infrared light therapy and biomat therapy (infrared mats mimic the wavelengths of sunlight! And the safe kinds), there are certain plants, like passionflower, that can do wonders on lifting the mood. Other mood lifting plants include valerian root (the plant source of valium), damiana, lavender, ashwaghanda, and lemon balm. Try them as teas, tinctures, or as essential oils, experiment and find what works best with your body chemistry.