The time of year plays a big part in how we feel, physically and mentally. For many, winter is a challenging season, with the drop in temperatures and daylight leading to lower energy and moods, not to mention the increased risk of cold and flu to stay mindful of. On the more positive end of things, it also brings some New Year’s energy to reinvigorate your routine. Here’s how to prioritize your health and wellness in the coming months.
Reset your routine
There’s never a wrong time to make positive changes, but there’s something to be said for the opportunity to start fresh in January. Consider this a gentle nudge to seize that “New Year, New Me” spirit and set a few wellness-related intentions for the year ahead.
Regular physical activity offers numerous mental and physical benefits — better sleep and cardiovascular health, just to name a few — so if you don’t have an exercise routine already in place, that might be a good place to start. And since starting a routine can often be easier than sticking with one, we have a couple tips to ensure that your new habits last:
Consider what you like doing — you’re more likely to continue with your exercise goals if you actually enjoy your workout, and there’s often a connection between consistency and the activity itself.
Speaking of consistency, don’t let a packed schedule interfere with your New Year’s aspirations. Make sure you’re showing up — at the gym, on the yoga mat, or for your regular afternoon walk — by carving out time on your calendar.
Set achievable goals. Specificity is your friend (think “exercising 3-5 days a week” as opposed to “exercising more”), and focus on the process rather than the outcome.
For additional tips, read How to Start and Stick to a Fitness Routine.
Maintain a steady intake of vitamin D
Winter’s downsides include the extra effort required to get vitamin D, a nutrient that’s critical to bone health, and whose production is supported by the endless sunshine of warmer months.
You can increase your intake of the vitamin this winter by loading up on fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, egg yolks, and some varieties of mushrooms. There are also vitamin-D-fortified food and beverages, including cow’s milk, soy milk, orange juice, and some cereals. Check the nutrition label to confirm.
If your vitamin D levels are still on the lower side, supplements can offer an additional boost. Always consult with your provider before taking supplements, and make sure they’re aware of all prescription and over-the-counter medications you take, as some medications can interact with supplements.
Strengthen your immune system
With cold and flu cases peaking between December and February, look for ways to strengthen your body’s defense against any viral invaders.
The flu vaccine protects against influenza viruses and is recommended for all age groups, including infants over six months, children, and adults. And it’s not too late to get one if you haven’t already: although it is ideal to get your flu shot by the end of October, given the typical trajectory of flu cases, the vaccine still offers protection when received at a later date. Check with your provider if you have questions about vaccine recommendations.
Incorporate plenty of vitamin-C-rich foods into your diet — citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli — and don’t forget about the antiviral powers of garlic. Other immunity-boosting foods include lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and probiotic-rich yogurt.
Good sleep hygiene also supports immune system function. If you’re struggling to get a minimum of seven hours each night, we have tips to help.
Be proactive about seasonal mental health challenges
It’s common to have less energy during winter, but for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a form of depression triggered by seasonal shifts — the colder, darker months bring more intense mood changes.
SAD is considered a type of depression rather than a separate mental health disorder. Common symptoms characteristic of depression include:
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
Changes in appetite or weight
Fatigue or low energy
Feelings of low self-worth, guilt, or hopelessness
Additional symptoms specifically associated with winter-pattern SAD include:
Withdrawal from social activities or a desire to hibernate
While seasonal mental health issues typically improve as spring approaches, there are ways to manage symptoms as they develop, such as light therapy, psychotherapy, and paying extra attention to diet, exercise, and other parts of your routine.
Antidepressants aren’t typically prescribed for SAD alone, but medications used to treat major depression or other mental health disorders may also improve season-related symptoms.
For more, read How to Treat Seasonal Depression.
Don’t skip the sun protection
You might not feel the sun’s rays as intensely during winter months, but skin protection is a year-round effort. The sun emits many different types of radiation. Some, like infrared radiation, decrease as the temperatures drop, but not ultraviolet radiation, which is responsible for sunburns and a leading cause of skin cancer. Winter even brings an extra risk, since bright snowy surfaces can reflect the sun’s rays and increase UV exposure.
Continue to apply sunscreen every day — yes, even when it’s cloudy. Look for a broad-spectrum, water-resistant option with an SPF of at least 30.
Keep the air at home clean
We typically spend more time inside this season, so it’s important to be mindful of the air you’re breathing in at home or work. You can improve indoor air quality with simple steps like the following:
Vacuum weekly, ideally with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum
Make your home a smoke-free zone
Use natural, non-toxic cleaning products in place of scented ones or those that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene
Oh, and one last gentle nudge: clean that heating filter!
Here for your health all year long
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This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.