With colder weather and shorter days, winter is a tough time of the year to stay healthy. Germs are passed easier because we are indoors and around other people longer. Everyone dreads the winter flu that can put you down for days or weeks. What are the easiest ways to avoid the winter flu?
1. Wash Your hands
Without a doubt, the easiest way to avoid spreading germs is to wash your hands. And, not just rubbing your hands together with water… you know who you are. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends 4 simple steps to be the most effective when washing your hands: Wet, Lather, Rinse, Dry. They recommend that you wash your hands for about 20 seconds or sing happy birthday twice, which is about the same amount of time. If no soap and water are around, use a hand sanitizer, though make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
2. Eat a well balanced Diet
Eating a well balanced diet is always important, though more so when your body is working overtime to fight off germs. The best way to fuel your immune system, and help your body’s innate antioxidant defense system, is to arm it with a healthy well-balanced diet.
During the winter, the days are shorter, and it’s cold outside, so you might find yourself reaching for an unhealthy snack while watching Netflix, like chips or cookies. Instead, try cutting up an apple, banana or other fruit to give your body natural vitamins. There are plenty of recipes to make healthy chip alternatives that can curb your potato chip craving, like banana or sweet potato chips. To quench your sweet tooth, you can purchase frozen berries and make a smoothie, or freeze it to have homemade sherbet.
Evidence is mixed about supplements, such as Vitamin C and Zinc, to boost the immune system and decrease the length and severity of a cold. Though what is definitive? Obtaining nutrients from whole foods and allowing your body’s natural ability to extract what it needs to help fight off foreign invaders.
3. Get Plenty of Sleep
There are plenty of articles out there stating that everyone needs to get 8 hours of sleep. The true story is that everyone’s circadian rhythm (24 hour sleep cycle) is different. Some people require 6 hours and others require 9 hours, depending on your age and health status. There is no one-size-fits-all for the amount of sleep someone may require.
The one over-riding fact is that you need good quality sleep for overall wellbeing. Sleep hygiene is a multifaceted approach to increase sleep quality, and can help you stay healthy during the winter. Two things you can do.
Remove all electronics from your bedroom
Utilize a bedside light. One suggestion is an orange tint that represents to your brain that the sun is setting. This can trigger a natural release of melatonin and get your brain ready to shut down for sleep.
Read a book
Read a book that is not too stimulating, that you can get about 10 pages in before you start to fall asleep.
Remember, it’s not just the length of your sleep, but the quality. The better quality sleep you get during the winter, correlates with less sickness.
Research shows that mild stress in the form of physical activity increases your immune system. During the winter, it is cold. Motivation to work out may be at an all time low. The days are shorter, and it may be difficult to get out of bed early to workout. After work, it is dark, and it may be tempting to go home and lay on the couch. Plus, during the holidays, the parties make it easy to skip the gym after work too.
There are a couple of ways to incorporate fitness into your daily routine during the winter. If it is difficult to get to the gym in the morning,
Try 20-30 min body weight workout before breakfast.
10 pushups, 10 air squats, 10 sit-ups and 10 jumping jacks for 5-10 rounds.
A quick YouTube search will provide multiple variations and scaling options for any of these movements. Aim for 20-30 minutes of physical activity 4-5 days a week.
Try shorter sessions at the gym.
Once you are there, you may even want to stay longer.
5. Avoid Excess Amounts of Alcohol
With office parties, family gatherings and sitting by the fire drinking a cocktail, the temptation to consume alcohol during winter is increased. I’m not suggesting that you completely abstain from alcohol, just be mindful of how many drinks you consume.
a. Alternate between an alcoholic drink and water.
b. Track the amount of calories in your alcoholic beverageKnowing the amount of calories in your drink may motivate you to limit the amount of drinks you have. Not to mention how alcohol affects your metabolism and different hormones.
c. Notice the craving for unhealthy snacks you have when consuming alcoholThe snacks may throw all of your healthy eating habits down the drain.
d. Before a holiday party, have a healthy lunch and healthy snacksI try to make sure my lunch is full of good fiber and protein, on the day of my holiday office party. This keeps me fuller longer. I also eat a healthy snack on the way to a party, to fill up, rather than graze all night.
The wintertime is a tough time to stay healthy, though if you can find ways to combine your healthy habits with some holiday treats, you can stave off that holiday weight gain. Fill up on healthy food, get quality sleep, and try to fit in physical activity. When January comes, you won’t be as upset at yourself!
LEARN MORE WITH CHARLIE PIERMARINI
Founder and CEO of Restorative Care of Arizona
Charlie holds three master’s degrees: Physiology (MS) Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS), Public Health (MPH) and is a Board Certified PA.