Shifting Habits for Season’s Change
When the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it’s time to make changes. Entire guides are dedicated to winterizing your home and your car, so why not your health?
Most of these habits make up the foundation of a healthy lifestyle in any season, but they are of particular importance during the winter. With shorter, darker days and lower temperatures, you may feel less inclined to get to the gym and more inclined to indulge in comfort foods. Seasonal affective disorder can set in, and your emotional health can impact your commitment to your physical health habits. As a result, the main shift you’ll make in winter will be to focus more on living a balanced, healthy life. Take vitamins, make sure you’re getting outside and spend time with friends and family.
Also crucial is practicing everyday preventive care to protect from the flu. Washing your hands often and staying hydrated are easy ways to help fight infection.
So when it’s time to hang the heavy drapes or check your tire tread, revisit and winterize your health habits, too.
What You’re Eating and Drinking
Nutrients are particularly vital during the winter months, when you may not have access to as many fresh fruits and vegetables. Look for seasonal produce, but don’t be afraid of taking supplements or vitamins for what your meals can’t provide. Talk to your physician before adding supplements to your diet, and ask specifically about fish oil and vitamins D and A. Eating extra leafy greens and garlic can also help keep your immune system strong.
While you may not be sweating like you do in the summer, your body can become just as dehyrdated in the winter. Winter’s low humidity dries your skin, and overheated homes and offices dry out your nose, mouth and lips as well. Running a humidifier can help with that, but drinking lots of water is the best way to stay hydrated and boost your immune system.
When You’re Sleeping
If the dark mornings are making it harder to wake up, you’ll be happy to know your body can benefit from the extra hours of sleep. Healthy sleep is not only good for your overall well-being and a noted mood booster, but it can also keep your immune system strong by giving it enough time to restore and repair itself. Aim for the recommended 7 – 8 hours for adults, but listen to your body when you need a little extra rest.
That said, changing light patterns that alter circadian rhythms can trigger depression. If your sleep changes drastically or if you begin to struggle with unrefreshing sleep, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
What You’re Doing
Getting out of the house is one of the most important components of staying healthy during the winter. That means more than going to and from work — it means keeping up with activities, hobbies and friends. It means exercising, which not only helps you combat stress and burn comfort food calories, but also keeps your immune system in top shape.
Winter can be full of social obligations like holiday parties and family visits, but attending a few big occasions does not provide the same health benefits of seeing people on a daily or weekly basis. Volunteering or joining a class for the winter are just some of the ways you can get social if you’re struggling to find motivation on your own.
Winterizing your self-care will not only strengthen your immune system to fight seasonal infections, but it can keep you in a healthy state of mind as well. The winter can be full of stress, and rates of depression rise, but spending time outdoors in the sun, staying social, exercising, sleeping and eating well can improve both your emotional and your physical health.
Interested in hearing more from Northwestern Medicine? Sign up for the Healthy Tips E‑Newsletter for everything from health and wellness ideas to patient breakthroughs to academic and medical advancements.