Often winter is a difficult season to weather. Many experience frigid temperatures, piles of snow, and long hours of darkness. Sickness spreads rapidly, and it can feel like there’s a chain of colds and flus waiting in line to take you down one after another all winter long. And then there’s the winter blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects millions of people in America. Depression kicks in with winter’s isolation, low light, and lower chances of outdoor activity. Winter packs a powerful punch. There are ways to combat all of these and maintain your well-being during the winter.
Staying Healthy through the Winter
Cold and flu season has begun. Coughs, runny noses, and fevers are spreading throughout your family and friends. Many parents are bracing themselves for sickness after sickness and the struggle of juggling their jobs and their sick kids. Knowing some of the factors that contribute to the season of illness and understanding some preventions can help your family stay healthy this winter.
- Cold weather brings several factors that provide prime conditions for viruses. As many have noted, we stay indoors and therefore in closer proximity to one another during the winter months. Holiday gatherings and festivities along with the school year provide excellent conditions for sicknesses to spread. This is not enough to spur the cold and flu season alone.
- New research demonstrates something that scientists have wondered for years – colder temperatures weaken our immune systems. A study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in December 2022 revealed that the defense mechanisms housed in noses are compromised by cold weather. Colder temperatures destroy as much as 50 percent of the cells at the end of your nose that fight off viruses and bacteria.
All this helps understand the reasons colds and flus are so prevalent during the winter, but can they be prevented? A few tried and true methods still hold true. However, consider a few new methods that may help you battle the sickness this winter.
- Wash your hands frequently and disinfect or clean regularly.
- Cover your mouth and nose when going out in the cold.
- Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and exercise.
- Consider natural supplements, like zinc, vitamin D, and other natural supplements.
Protecting Your Mental Well-Being During Winter
Between the stress of the holidays and the shorter days, your mental health can decrease during the winter. Many feel the “winter blues” and some have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where depression sets in during the winter months. It’s estimated that millions of Americans suffer from SAD, many without being aware that they do. SAD can range from milder feelings of sadness, emptiness, and withdrawal to strong, more debilitating seasonal depression that affects the ability to live life. Whatever your symptoms, your mental well-being may need a little extra attention this winter.
- Exercise – Moving your body for 30-60 minutes a day can help keep your mood up even in the dark days of winter. Some research suggests that group exercise is especially effective for combatting feelings of depression.
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Light therapy – getting natural daylight is the best therapy to help with feelings of depression during the winter. This is not always possible because of work conditions and the short hours of daylight. Whether or not you able to be near a window or get outside during the day, you may need to supplement with a light.
Exercising Safely During the Winter
Exercise shows up on both lists for maintaining your well-being in winter. Your physical and mental health benefit from exercise. However, exercising in winter can be challenging. Short daylight hours, icy sidewalks and roads, and frigid temperatures deter many from exercising outside. Gyms can be expensive to frequent, and it may be difficult to find space and motivation for working out at home.
The cold does not have to keep you from exercising outside. Keeping your workout routine outdoors may help you get sunlight that will further help your mental health, too. Grips that fit over your shoes, like Yaktrax, can make running and walking more feasible and safer even in icy conditions. Consider taking up a winter sport for exercise. This give you a great way to exercise and give you a way to enjoy winter. Fun, winter-specific activities like hockey, ice skating, sledding, or skiing may make the winter months more pleasant and give your well-being a much-needed boost.
It’s important to note that cold weather extremes can also pose risks for you as you exercise. Cold temperatures make injury more likely, so warming up sufficiently is crucial. Wear enough layers and consider covering your mouth and nose to help protect you body from the shock of breathing cold air. Be careful of exercises that require sudden spikes in exertion, such as shoveling or sprinting. Ease into exercise as much as possible, giving your body plenty of time to adapt and warm up.
Another excellent way to benefit your mental and physical health is through group exercises. Yoga classes, dance classes, or community exercise classes or leagues can help you stay social and exercise during the winter. These are available at many gyms and sometimes community centers offer group exercises, as well. Join with a few friends or get to know some new people. Either way, you will find your well-being improved this winter by staying active with group exercises.