Here in the Northeast United States, we’re two months into the year with at least one full month left of winter (depending on whether the spring weather arrives on time). It’s during this time of year that many of us become restless and tired of the constant darkness and bitter cold. Many people also suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs with the changes of the season and commonly lasts through the winter months.
While it may seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel during this final stretch of winter, there are ways to improve our health and well-being so we make the most of the weeks leading up to spring. We’ve got 12 health tips to help you avoid the winter blues and get you through the end of winter.
1. Keep Moving – Don’t let the last few weeks of winter get in the way of your daily movement. There are many benefits to exercise, especially during the winter months. In addition to helping avoid heart disease and building strong muscles and bones, studies have shown that daily physical activity is connected to improving one’s mood, making it vital for the winter season. Daily physical activity may look different for everyone, but making sure that you incorporate whatever movement into your day that works for you is what matters most. Whether it’s yoga, skiing, running, rock climbing, or simply walking more, keep moving to help ensure staying healthy.
2. Prioritize Sleep – Getting a good night’s sleep is imperative any time of the year, but it certainly makes a difference during the winter. Lack of sleep can be detrimental to our health, and when we’re at higher risk of depression and viruses in the winter, it is important to prioritize sleep health. Here are some tips for optimizing sleep health through the end of winter.
- Set up a nighttime ritual, turning off the television and other electronics at least a half hour before bed.
- Be consistent with your sleep habits, waking up and going to bed at around the same time each day, even on the weekends.
- Keep your bedroom dark to help avoid messing up your circadian rhythms.
3. Wash Your Hands – Cold and flu season lasts through the entire winter and can even trickle into the early spring months. One of the simplest ways to ward off germs is to make sure that you consistently wash your hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even provides a guide for understanding the importance of handwashing, including how and when to wash your hands so you are doing your best to not get sick. To avoid the cold and flu during the last stretch of winter, keep washing your hands at the top of your list, especially if you ride public transportation, use the water cooler at work, or pick up your kids from school.
4. Incorporate Natural Remedies into Your Routine – There are many natural remedies that you can include in your daily routine to maintain optimal health throughout the entire winter season. Some of our favorite natural flu remedies include bone broth, elderberry syrup, oil of oregano, and essential oils. While they won’t necessarily cure the flu, these remedies will help support managing flu symptoms. Including these natural remedies while also sipping lots of herbal teas and warm soups is the best way to support your immune system through the winter.
5. Choose Anti-Inflammatory Foods – Joint pain and stiffness are common during the winter months as cold weather can increase inflammation. There are many foods that can help reduce inflammation, but foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, including walnuts, olive oil, and fatty fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc.) are at the top of the list. Research has shown that foods high in omega-3s can help reduce a number of inflammatory diseases, including autoimmune conditions, inflammatory bowel disease, and skin and joint diseases. Keep these foods on your plate as the winter months begin to wind down.
6. Spice Things Up – Adding herbs and spices to your food not only increases the flavor profile of your meal but can also provide various health benefits. In the winter especially, there are many warming spices to add to your diet to reduce inflammation, manage stress and adrenal dysfunction, and support gut health balance. Here are three herbs and spices to add to your diet to help get you through the end of winter.
- Ashwagandha – Commonly used in Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is an Indian herb that helps reduce stress and balance cortisol levels. As anxiety is a symptom of SAD, Ashwagandha can help support calming your body.
- Turmeric– This popular spice is packed with curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits great for helping fight cold and flu symptoms.
- Ginger – With many medicinal properties, ginger is a well-known spice commonly used for cold and flu symptom relief, digestion, migraines, and more. Whether sipped in an herbal tea or added to a soup, ginger can provide a warm and soothing effect during the winter months.
7. Eat Hydrating Foods –We typically associate hydration with the warm months of the year, but it is just as important during the winter season. Besides drinking water, choosing hydrating foods can provide support for your immune system as fluids help carry important nutrients to your cells and flush out bacteria. Incorporate citrus, peppers, lettuce, and lots of soups and stews into your diet through the end of winter to provide additional hydration for your body.
8. Get Outside – It's not always easy to step outdoors when the weather is bitter cold, but it is not good for our health to stay cooped up. When we hit that point in winter when we start to get cabin fever, it’s important to schedule time outside to get fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, and relieve ourselves from the indoor stuffiness. Schedule a walk during the workday, plan a run in the park with a friend, or participate in a winter sport to improve your mood and overall mental health through the end of winter.
9. Make Time for Your Relationships – The winter season can often feel lonely and isolating, so it’s important to schedule face-to-face time with your friends and family. At Integrative Nutrition, we always teach about the impact of relationships on our health. And in the middle of winter, when the holiday celebrations and the excitement of the new year have officially calmed down, we probably need interaction with our loved ones the most. Here are 30 social date ideas in case you need some inspiration.
10. Be Kind to Yourself –Between getting sick, staying indoors, and dealing with weather that may ruin our plans, winter can certainly be difficult to handle. But it’s during these months that we should practice self-compassion and avoid being too hard on ourselves. To keep your mental health in check during the final stretch of winter, don’t be overly critical of your mood fluctuations and do something each day that will help lift your spirits. Whether it’s having a slow morning with a cup of tea, stretching before bed, or reading poetry, each person is different when it comes to being kind to yourself. Do what works best for you!
11. Don’t Skip the Sunscreen – Our skin is our body’s largest organ, and while we may not have as much skin exposed during the winter months, it’s vital to protect the parts that are exposed from the winter sun. Even though UVB rays are strongest during the summer months, they can still damage our skin throughout the entire year – especially in the mountains, where there is heavy snow, as snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s light, so it hits your skin twice as hard. As we try to get through the end of winter, keep sun exposure in mind whenever you are outdoors. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it’s best to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day on any exposed skin (face, neck, ears, etc.).
12. Keep Your Skin Moisturized – The cold and dry air during the winter months can be extremely harsh on your skin, which can leave you feeling itchy and uncomfortable. Dry skin can lead to larger health issues, including dermatitis, eczema, and other infections. It’s vital to keep your skin hydrated in the winter by drinking plenty of water, moisturizing, and using a humidifier in your home. Additional ways to avoid dry skin through the end of winter are dry brushing, exfoliating, and using moisturizing face masks.
Ultimately, getting through the end of winter requires maintaining all areas of your health. Want to learn more about holistic health? Integrative Nutrition’s curriculum includes concepts and theories that support transforming your health and happiness. Get our Curriculum Guide to dive into what you'll learn in our Health Coach Training Program!