Winter brings with it a unique set of health challenges. From dry, cracked skin and chapped lips to colds and flu and seasonal “blues,” there’s a lot to deal with this time of year. Fortunately, I have several winter health tips that can help you and your family stay healthy this season—and year round.
Winter Health Tip #1: Don’t Let Dry Winter Air Get You Down
One common winter problem is harsh, dry air. It can lead to cracked lips, parched skin, and dry sinuses and mucous membranes. Humidifiers can certainly help. Just make sure you clean them often, as water reservoirs and filters are breeding grounds for mold and bacteria. A good lip balm and moisturizer are also beneficial, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements (at least 1,000 mg DHA/EPA per day) have been shown to improve dry and sensitive skin.
Another winter health tip? Drink plenty of water and other fluids to stay hydrated, and use a saline or xylitol nasal spray to keep passages moistened and flush out allergens and pathogens.
Winter Health Tip #2: Say No to “SAD”
Other common winter problems my patients and readers regularly bring up are depression, fatigue, weight gain, and decreased desire to exercise. There’s an explanation for this. Human beings and other animals thrive on sunlight, and wintertime light deprivation can have serious repercussions. You may be familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD): depression that appears only in winter and is cured with exposure to bright light. There is another less obvious but far more significant consequence of inadequate exposure to sunlight—vitamin D deficiency—which is an underlying factor in conditions as diverse as osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and cancer.
Fortunately, the “winter blues” respond extremely well to supplemental vitamin D3. Take enough to bring your blood level up into the 50–80 ng/mL range. For most people this requires about 2,000–5,000 IU of vitamin D per day. It will boost your mood, bolster your immune system, and help you stay healthy all winter long.
Winter Health Tip #3: Stay Active
Though you may feel like cozying up and hibernating for the winter, don’t do it. It’s imperative that you get active if you want to stay healthy during this time of year. A multitude of studies—and personal experience—have underscored the fact that people who are physically active are healthier, happier, and sharper than those who are sedentary. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it! I understand exercise can be difficult with the cold weather and short, dark days. However, don’t use that as an excuse. You just have to be creative.
You can still exercise outdoors, but aim for the daylight hours and dress warmly in layers. Look into local health clubs, indoor public pools, and yoga, Pilates, and dance classes. Consider walking in malls or other indoor areas. You can also do indoor exercise at home. Check online or at your local library for exercise videos or tutorials, and rather than purchasing high-powered equipment, get some inexpensive hand weights, a jump rope, an exercise ball, or a mini-trampoline. If you can get in just three or four 30-minute sessions a week, I guarantee you’ll get through this winter with less stress, more energy, a sunnier mood, and better overall health.
Winter Health Tip #4: Take Immune-Boosting Supplements
Here’s another helpful winter wellness tip for you. Remember that for sidestepping seasonal infections, the best defense is a good offense. To ensure you stay healthy this season, shore up your nutritional foundation. Start with a broad-spectrum multivitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet. Next, focus on supplements that help boost your immune system. A strong immune system starts in your gut. Taking a high-quality probiotic daily will help crowd out bad bacteria and populate your digestive tract with beneficial flora. Other proven immune enhancers include vitamin D (see dosage above), zinc(30–50 mg daily in supplement form or 12 mg in lozenge form dissolved in the mouth every two to three hours), and vitamin C (a minimum of 1,000 mg per day).
Winter Health Tip #5: Clean Up Indoor Air
The final winter problem I want to discuss is a subtle one, but it affects many of us, and it stems from being cooped up indoors all day. If you’re going to stay healthy spending all that time inside, you’ll need to clean up your indoor air. Believe it or not, household plants make wonderful natural air purifiers. Their leaves absorb airborne toxins and impurities and transfer them to the soil where they are broken down. Some of the most “cleansing” plants include philodendrons, aloe vera, Chinese evergreen, and English ivy.
I also recommend air purifiers or air treatment systems with HEPA filters, especially if you have allergies or are prone to respiratory infections. In addition to removing particulate matter like soot, smoke, dust, pollen, and pet dander, a good purification system should include a carbon filter to help soak up chemicals and other gasses made up of fine particles. The best systems also incorporate ultraviolet light to kill airborne pathogens and other bacteria.