Baby It’s Cold Outside? — How the changing weather can mess us up, how to keep healthy in cold/flu/changing weather seasons
Mother Nature has done it again. She’s created this beautiful changing of the seasons: leaves that turn red and orange and brown, wind that whistles through those empty trees, and if you’re lucky, some white, fluffy snow too. It’s beautiful! And yet, at this time of year, it’s harder for our bodies to flourish both inside and out. Often we need some help to boost our immune systems, keep our bodies moving, and keep our skin happily moisturized. Here are some ways to weather the winter months, no matter what “winter” looks like in your part of the world:
A Shot Now So You’re Not Shot Later
Your best defense against cold and flu season is to strike germs before they strike you. Getting an annual flu shot is your first line of defense against coming down with influenza. Since a virus is an illness that can’t be treated by antibiotics, once you’re under the weather with the flu, you’re stuck there until it runs its course.
The good news is that flu shots are pretty accessible: you can get a flu shot at your primary care physician, or even at most drug stores with a pharmacy. It takes about two weeks from the time you get the shot until the antibodies in your system are strong enough to fight the virus, so it’s ideal to get the flu shot early on in the season before those around you start getting sick. But it’s not too late– the flu shot will be beneficial no matter when you get it within the flu season.
There are many misconceptions about the flu shot but no, it will not make you sick. The worst that will happen is that your arm will be sore from the injection the next day. A small price to pay to prevent a week in bed with the flu!
Keep It Clean
This should totally go without saying, but wash your hands with soap and warm water as often as you can. Hand washing is the easiest and most effective thing you can do to prevent colds.
Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer close by at work and on the go, and carry antibacterial wipes for surfaces like door handles, bathroom fixtures, and tray tables on airplanes that everyone touches and nobody cleans. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you’re preventing the spread of whatever germs are lurking on your own hands. Your immune system (and everyone else’s) will thank you for the added support.
Supplement Your Immune System
Speaking of your immune system, even if you’re eating healthy, it’s hard to get all the nutrition you need from food alone. Taking supplemental vitamins is a good option to bridge the gap between what you take in through food and what your body needs at any given moment.
There are a number of multivitamins geared towards seasonal wellness in particular. Vitamin C is the classic cold buster, with vitamin D playing a major supporting role in boosting immunity. A daily supplement that combines the two (like this Emergen-C powder) is a delicious and easy way to start. Keep a packet in your purse, desk, lunch box, or nightstand to remind you to take it once a day during the cold and flu season.
Another great choice is an immune multivitamin like Wellness Formula by Source Naturals that provides support from more herbs than you ever knew existed. It can be taken daily for maintenance or for defense at the first signs of imbalance.
In the event that you do get sick, additional homeopathic remedies like the aptly named Get Over It! Tincture from Wishgarden can help you get back on your feet sooner. Cough drops with zinc, echinacea, and elderberry provide support and relief as well.
Keep It Moving
It can be hard to stick to an exercise routine in the winter, especially if your workouts often take you outside. Dropping temperatures, icy roads, and snowy conditions can make for an unsafe or unpleasant outdoor excursion and decreased motivation to exercise. Finding alternative ways to keep moving can help you stay healthier all winter long.
First of all, exercise helps you fight off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short). SAD occurs during winter months when sunlight becomes less available, causing the circadian rhythms that govern sleep, mood, and hormones to shift. Symptoms are similar to those of depression: sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest, fatigue, food cravings, and increased desire to sleep. The best known cure for SAD is to get out in the sunlight as much as possible to reset this internal clock.
Paired with the endorphin rush that brings positive thoughts and feelings into the body, going for a walk or run outside may be the best thing for you, even (especially) when it feels like the hardest thing to do. Of course, if SAD sounds like something that may be affecting you, discuss it with a healthcare professional before beginning a course of self-treatment.
Maybe the changing weather inspires you to change up your workout routine too. If you live somewhere with ample snow, you could spend a few hours skiing or snowshoeing instead of hitting the gym. Both activities provide a full body workout, from the cardio of traipsing around in snow in the heavy gear, to the core workout it takes to control your body movements across the course. If you live near a seasonal ice rink, you’re in luck: skating for just 30 minutes burns a whopping 460 calories on average.
If the weather is just too dreadful to be outside, an indoor workout will suffice. Consider a yoga class or barre class online that can be done from the comfort of your own home. If you feel like you must leave the house, you can always revive the great tradition of mall walking. As retail stores are dying out thanks to the ease of online shopping, malls are increasingly empty spaces looking for new purpose. Chances are if you go to your nearest mall and take some fast walking laps, you won’t be alone.
Even if you don’t live in a climate where it snows, the harsh winter weather can take a toll on the outside of our bodies too. Some simple changes to your skincare routine for the winter months can help you feel even better in your body.
As the air gets dry, so too can our skin, hair, and lips. Cold weather and indoor heating are both culprits, so you may find that as your heat comes on, you need to supplement the moisture you’re missing in the air by drinking plenty of water or applying lotion to your skin. If your skin starts to get dry and itchy, try moisturising with oils, creams, ointments, or serums. You can also invest in a humidifier to offset the dryness in the air caused by mechanical heating.
Though a hot shower may feel great on a cold day, this will actually dry out your skin and scalp. Take a moderately warm shower instead, and limit the time spent in the shower to under ten minutes. Moisturize your skin directly after showering for best results. And don’t neglect your lips: apply lip balm with SPF when going outside (because you can still get sunburned in the snow!) and avoid products that make your lips sting or burn. Moisturizing products should feel therapeutic, not tingly or otherwise sensational.
As always, listen to your body. Be on the lookout for excessive redness or numbness of extremities when you’re outside in prolonged exposure to cold, as these could be signs of frostbite.
Healthy Habits Year Round
Other things that can be a drain on our immune system in the winter are the same battles we fight all year round. Keeping stress at bay and getting enough sleep are two of the most important factors in our well-being that are so often overlooked.
When your body is lacking in sleep, it slows down its production of cytokines, a protein that targets areas of inflammation. Without that important immune response, your body is more susceptible to illness and injury. In a chronically tired state, even the flu vaccine has been proven less effective.
Plus, when days are shorter in the winter months, our bodies want to follow suit, crawling into bed earlier as the sun sets sooner. Unless you’re doing so as a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), follow that instinct. Take advantage of earlier sunsets to wind down sooner in the evening to give yourself the extra hour(s) of sleep it’s craving. Sleep is a big asset to our immune systems, so you’ll be doing your body all kinds of favors by catching some extra ZZZs.
Enjoy Your Winter Wonderland
The changing of seasons from fall into winter and back into spring can be a beautiful transition, but it can be rather harsh on our bodies. If you cultivate the skill of listening to your body, it may tell you exactly what it needs. From more water (always) to some movement (usually advisable) to some products to help protect and nurture it inside and out, our bodies have the wisdom to tell us exactly what they need. With a little bit of care, you’ll stay happy and healthy enough through the season to enjoy all the fun and beauty it has to offer.
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