Staying Healthy Through Winter

Is it harder for you to get out of bed on winter mornings when the temperature is low and it’s darker outside? You’re not alone. 

A sleepy Caucasian man turning an alarm offCold weather and fewer daylight hours create challenges in getting motivated to eat healthy and be physically active. When healthy habits are ebbing, your immune system weakens, increasing your risk of getting sick with a cold or the flu. About 20% of Americans get the cold or flu each year.

Despite the changes in weather, winter doesn’t have to be an unhealthy time for hibernation — you can use this time to take charge and refocus on your health. 

To get started, I’ll share some wellness tips I’m following to maintain good health and fitness this winter.

Curb the Carbs

Cold weather can increase carb and comfort food cravings (for me, it’s pre- and post-holiday cookies). After carb-filled foods are consumed, the brain hormone serotonin increases, causing cravings to continue throughout the day. Translation: The more carb-filled foods you consume, the more you crave. To break this cycle, eat protein-rich foods at breakfast (eggs, yogurt, hummus, low-fat cheese, etc.) for high energy throughout the day. To avoid afternoon carb cravings, I keep healthy snacks available like whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, and trail mix with nuts.

Up Your Fiber   

Foods with soluble fiber decrease inflammation and boost your immune system. Fiber stimulates infection-fighting T-cells which help you recover from infections faster. Apples, oats, nuts, avocados, citrus fruits, berries, and flaxseed are good sources of soluble fiber. Try adding two tablespoons of flaxseed to oatmeal or soups, or tossing sliced oranges or strawberries into salads or plain Greek yogurt.

Spice It Up

spicesFood-flavoring garlic, onion, ginger and cilantro have immune-boosting properties. Turmeric, used in Indian foods, contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. You can sprinkle turmeric on food, however when I’m feeling sluggish, I make a ‘turmeric tea’ (recipe below). Turmeric tea bags are also available at most stores.                                                           

Get Active: Outdoors or Indoors

Plenty of outdoor activities like ice skating, playing hockey, winter walks or runs in local parks are fun and can help you stay fit during the colder months. If you don’t want to be outdoors, check out your local library for online workout videos ranging from yoga, strength training, and aerobics you can do at home. Don’t like to work out alone?  Take a group fitness class at your local gym or community center where you can socialize and meet new people.  Bowling, swimming, and dancing are also great indoor activities.

Catch some sleep

Did you know, lack of sleep can make you sick? People who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after exposure to common cold viruses. Lack of sleep prevents your body from fighting infections and impacts how fast you recover. To boost your immune system get 7-8 hours of sleep for adults, 9-10 for teens and over 10 for school-aged children. Sleep routines are important too. Go to bed the same time each night, avoid caffeine 6 hours and smoking 2 hours before bedtime.

Turmeric TeaCloseup of tumeric powder spice on a spoon

  1. Boil 3 to 4 cups of water on the stove.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of turmeric and stir.
  3. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Strain the tea into another container.
  5. Add in honey, fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice, and milk to taste.

Prevent Childhood Obesity – Let Your Kids Control The Spoon

When I was a child, meals were not just about nutrition; they were moments where my mother could shower me with love… by stuffing me with food. Much of this love came from my mom’s own childhood, when her belly constantly ached for more food. As an adult, I can appreciate her desire to block that hunger from my life, but my mother’s actions played a big part in my lifelong struggle towards achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Today, public health experts consider childhood obesity in America a crisis. Almost 1 in 3 American children and adolescents are either overweight or have obesity, which can lead to asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and bone and joint problems. Obese children are also more likely to experience bullying, social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.

Overweight adolescents also have a 70% chance of growing into overweight or obese adults. A child with obesity between the ages of 6- to 8-years old is about 10 times more likely to grow into an obese adult. But if you can help your child avoid obesity by the age of five, she has a much better chance of avoiding obesity as an adult. While genetics certainly plays a role in weight, there are plenty of things you can do to help your child maintain a healthy weight.

The easiest way to ensure that your child eats right is to serve nutritious options and let her decide how much to eat. Don’t worry if she doesn’t eat as much as yesterday, because children’s appetites vary daily. By letting your child lead the meal, you’re teaching her how to listen to her body’s natural signals of fullness and hunger, and allowing her to learn how much is enough.

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Even babies can indicate their hunger and fullness. When introducing solid food to infants, make sure your baby is paying attention to the spoon and showing signs of hunger and interest.

Giving control to your child also means that you should prepare yourself for leftover food on the plate. Clean plates are not the goal. And for picky eaters, it also means that you shouldn’t force your child to eat—as long as she is growing and has energy to play, she is likely getting enough food.

A healthy diet includes the right portions of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Portion size for toddlers and preschoolers are much smaller—every meal may not include every food group. By varying the options during meals and snacks, your child will get a balanced diet over the course of the day. Avoid offering juices, sodas, and chocolate milk, which contain a lot of sugar.

Children also need appropriate sleep and physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. To see if your child is getting enough sleep, check the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for sleep at every stage of childhood. If your child is in school, help them to get at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day.

Childhood obesity starts at an early age. By teaching your child healthy eating and lifestyle habits, you can help her avoid a lifelong battle with weight and possible chronic diseases.

Sleep Your Way To A Healthier You

Do you ever wake up and feel as tired as you were when your head hit the pillow the night before? During the day, do you feel moody or can’t concentrate? If so, you may not be getting enough sleep. Inadequate sleep negatively affects your overall health by increasing your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Insufficient sleep also contributes to weight gain by affecting hormones that regulate your appetite. Studies show that adults who do not get an adequate amount of sleep demonstrate more hunger, a greater appetite for unhealthy, calorie-dense foods, and decreased energy to put towards physical activity.

How much is enough sleep? That depends upon age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school age children need 9-11 hours; teens, 8-10 hours; adults, 7-9 hours; and, older adults (65+), 7-8 hours. Over 79% of American adults are getting less than the recommended minimum 7 hours each night.

I always make an effort to eat well (I’m a Registered Dietitian) and stay physically active (I’m a runner and cyclist), but getting that minimum of 7 hours of sleep AND sleeping well is a challenge. After researching and trying several tips to get “my dream sleep”, I’d like to share some that have worked for me.

Stick to a sleep schedule
Having a consistent sleep pattern improves the quality of your sleep. I’m in bed, lights out at 11:00 pm and wake up 6:30 pm seven days a week! On the weekends, I stay in bed for an hour and read or do Sudoku puzzles.

Establish a bedtime ritual
I really look forward to my relaxing pre-sleep routine which begins in bed at 10:30 pm. I take three deep breaths, drink a small cup of chamomile tea, listen to sleep music and read. I “power down” my blue light devices (laptop and phone) by 8:30 PM.

Avoid caffeine in the afternoons   
I am sensitive to the effects of caffeine, so I avoid consuming containing beverages after 3 PM. In general, you should also limit coffee to 400-mg/day, which is no more than four 8-oz cups of coffee. Keep in mind, the average size of coffee cups these days is 12- to 16-oz, so drinking four of those cups would exceed 400-mg.

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Research shows that coffee, drunken six hours before bedtime, can still affect sleep quality. (Photo by Nathan Dumlao)

Use lavender as aromatheraphy
The oil from this plant slows your heartbeat, relaxing muscles and enhances sleep. The two quick sprays of Lavender Pillow Mist I squirt on my pillow really clears and relaxes my mind.

Don’t take a good night’s sleep for granted. Find and stick with the sleep tips that work best for you. Pleasant Dreams!