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.

Tea-rific! 

What’s the most popular drink in the world besides water? If you guessed coffee, that would be incorrect; its tea! According to the Tea Association of America, tea is found in 80% of the households in the U.S. and iced tea accounts for the majority of the tea consumed by Americans.

Tea-rific Beverly
Beverly at the Charleston Tea Plantation

I consider myself a ‘tea geek’ and have never drank a cup of coffee in my life. On my recent travels abroad, I enjoyed sipping several types of tea in the many tea shops in Beijing, China (no coffee served, only tea). Green ginger tea was my favorite. I learned the proper way to brew tea (never boil the water) and sipped puerh, or dark tea, for the first time at Hong Kong’s Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. And a tour through the Charleston Tea Plantation last December was very enlightening.

Did you know that all tea originates from one plant, the Camilla sinensis plant? Another interesting fact is that the amount of time this plant’s leaves are exposed to the air (or oxidized) determines the five main types of tea: white, green, oolong, black and dark.

Health Benefits of Tea

Whether you consume tea as a refreshing cold or a comforting warm beverage, this plant-based drink has many health benefits. Tea contains antioxidants, primarily flavonoids, which benefit our health. Consume black tea or green tea and you can improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and blood pressure. Drink oolong tea and you can manage blood sugar levels if you’re diabetic. Sip green tea and you may decrease your risk of depression. Consuming tea may also protect the brain against Alzheimer’s Disease. Sipping chamomile which is an herbal beverage and not technically a tea, can improve your sleep.

Caffeine and Tea

Japanese Teapot
Japanese Teapot, photo by savard

An 8-ounce cup of tea contains about one-third (green tea, 30-50 milligrams (mgs)) to one-half (black tea, 25-110 mgs.) the caffeine compared to an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee (100-200 mgs.). That’s great news if you want to reduce your caffeine intake. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), states that 400 mgs. per day of caffeine is a safe amount to consume for healthy adults. Too much caffeine (500 to 600 mgs/day) can cause restlessness, tremors, irritability, insomnia and stomach upset.

For all you coffee lovers, there is no need to put your coffee cup away. Instead, substitute one or two cups of your daily ‘joe’ for tea and enjoy the many health benefits and ‘tea-rific’ flavors of tea.