As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, and the fun summer season fades in our memories, we realize that winter is upon us. Gone are the splashing children at the pool, replaced by the splashing of rain boots in cold mud puddles. Ah, winter. While the chilly season brings fun holidays with family, it also can bring significant changes to the body: depression, weight gain, bad skin and illnesses, to name a few. But with a little preparation and attention, you won’t have to suffer through winter; you may even enjoy it. Here are six tips for a happier and healthier holiday season.
Our warm summer humidity gives way to cold, dry air in the winter and causes many imbalances in the skin. If you’ve never had to worry about keeping your skin moist, you may have to be more diligent in the winter.
Good skin starts from within. Drinking plenty of good, clean water is the foundation of healthy skin. The rule of thumb: drink at least half of your body weight in ounces per day. For instance, a 150-pound person would drink 75 ounces of water per day, or about nine 8-ounce glasses. Remember to add 32 ounces or one more quart for every hour of exercise per day.
Instead of using lotion or moisturizer, try some natural and healthy alternatives like plain glycerin or coconut oil. Glycerin is a smoothing humectant, which draws moisture from the air to the skin. Organic coconut oil is great at repairing skin, preventing damage from the sun, removing dead skin and retaining moisture. Try using it on those dry tresses this winter. (Women in India have been using coconut oil this way for hundreds of years.)
What’s the first thing you think of when you think of winter? Cold and flu season, right? Bodies are more vulnerable to infection during the winter months because of the changes in weather. Preventing illness is easy with a little preparation.
First, keep your hands clean. Hands are much more likely to pick up and spread germs than any other part of the body. Hand sanitizers are easily found in most checkout lanes and are small enough to carry in a purse or on a keychain. Most of them work their magic with rubbing alcohol, but remember that sanitizers do not replace old-fashioned soap and water. Stick with soap that is not antibacterial. The antibiotics in antibacterial soap kill the weak bacteria and leave antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment when washed down the drain.
Next, keep your body healthy with a few simple supplements and herbs. Boost your intake of vitamins C and D, and even throw in a little echinacea, an herb that supports the immune system. Try echinacea as a pill or brewed as an herbal tea. If the cold or flu bug happens to bite, one of the best natural antimicrobial herbs is concentrated oregano oil. This can be taken as drops or gel caps. The drops are less expensive per use but the oil is extremely bitter and spicy. Oregano oil also happens to be great for skin infections like acne and can be applied directly on blemishes.
Don’t be SAD
The cold months bring shorter days and longer nights. Factor in that most people work indoors during the day, and many of us won’t experience any sun exposure in the winter months. Just like Superman, we depend on the sun to keep us healthy. A good amount of healthy sunlight can prevent the winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is common and easily preventable. Along with healthy sun exposure, vitamin D is very important, especially on days when you’re stuck in the office and unable to leave until dark. The best form of Vitamin D is the converted form known as D3.
Cut It Out
While the holidays bring together family and friends, they also bring a lot of yummy food and drinks that you might not otherwise indulge in: sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and egg nog, to name a few. Let’s be honest: We are going to indulge. But all those calories can lead to extra weight, bad moods and a lowered immune defense. The easiest way to keep the calories in check is to cut out calories that do not add anything to holiday cheer. For most people, that means sodas.
Sodas are empty calories, meaning the liquid in the can has no vitamins or minerals to go along with all of the unnecessary energy that easily gets converted to stored fat. Don’t be fooled by diet sodas; they contain phosphoric acid, which robs bones of calcium and leads to osteoporosis. So one of the best holiday resolutions you can make is to eliminate sodas for the rest of the year. Your body and all the delicious home-cooked foods will thank you.
Rise and Shine
Resolutions are for the new year, right? That usually means less exercise to go along with all of the extra eating. Staying on the fitness track is difficult during the holidays. Your boss wants you to get everything done before the end of the year, so you log extra hours at work. Friends and family are in town. The kids are out of school. Where is the time for the gym?
Time is precious around the holidays, so efficiency is key. Try working out for a short time in the morning. Start with 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise followed by 90 seconds of rest, and repeat about eight to 10 times. This increases human growth hormone naturally and leads to a higher metabolism and more fat loss.
Warming up before exercise becomes more important when the weather is cold. Before you exercise, start with gentle movements to warm up the body and joint rotations to build fluid and shock absorption in the joints. After your workout, enjoy long, slow stretches without bouncing to increase flexibility. Mobile and flexible joints and muscles help prevent injuries.
The holidays also bring an irregular sleep schedule. Proper sleep is especially important for proper hormone balance in women as well as mental sharpness during the day. Long-term memories do not form very well without enough sleep. Every person is different, but most people need about seven to nine hours of continuous sleep per night. Keeping a regular schedule as much as possible and going to bed at the same time every night is helpful.
If you just can’t catch enough shut-eye, melatonin or 5-HTP supplements can help. Chamomile tea before bedtime is also very relaxing. Avoid the television, loud activities and heavy foods near bedtime and replace them with relaxing music, low-energy activities and reading.
It’s Up To You
A lot of what makes new year’s resolutions so difficult is a lack of routine during the holidays. Following these six tips will help keep life balanced and on track. A general checkup during the winter with your doctor would be helpful as well. You might try visiting a chiropractor, naturopath, nutritional therapist or acupuncturist whenever the seasons change to get specific nutritional and lifestyle advice along with some body rebalancing if necessary.
But don’t forget to enjoy the holidays. Bundle up with your favorite scarf, layer your favorite sweaters, break out those colorful mittens, and have a happy and healthy holiday season.
This article was written by Dr. Al Jameson for the November/December 2010 issue of Total Body Magazine and is reprinted with permission.