Guest Post By: Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Throughout the winter months, it’s normal to feel a change in physical and mental well-being—In fact, reports show that Americans practice less healthy habits during the cold season. Though a variety of environmental factors affect this, there are behaviors and routines that can help ensure a healthy mind, body and spirit early in the new year and beyond.
Though dehydration is most often associated with summertime and high temperatures, it’s also common during cold months. At any time of year, it only takes a one or two-percent drop in water weight to begin experiencing symptoms of dehydration.
- Consciously Drink More Water: A general rule of thumb for adults is to aim for at least half their body weight in ounces of water daily. Athletes and individuals managing diabetes or kidney disease, among other chronic illnesses, should consult their primary care provider to determine the appropriate daily water intake. A great way to stay on track is drinking one glass before every meal. Those who have a hard time with this should try infusing it with fruit, vegetables and herbs to give it more flavor.
- Eat Hydrating Foods: Approximately 80 percent of hydration comes from liquids and 20 percent comes from foods. Consuming water-dense foods such as celery, cucumbers, strawberries and watermelon can naturally hydrate the body. It’s also important to include foods that increase the body’s electrolyte-count such as cheese, milk, pickles or yogurt.
Changes to Skin
- Get Some Vitamin D: People who reside in areas with shorter periods of daylight throughout winter are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D is important to not only keep bones strong, but support the prevention of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. To avoid any deficiency in vitamin D, consult with a doctor on supplements or consume foods like salmon, tuna, mackerel, mushrooms and eggs that naturally nourish the body with vitamin D.
- Hydrate Inside and Out: Drinking water nourishes the cells, from the inside out. This keeps the skin, our largest organ, healthy. Regularly using lotion or oils helps trap moisture to keep skin soft and hydrated throughout the winter.
Fatigue and S.A.D.-ness
It’s easy to use cold weather as an excuse to stay indoors or be less active; however, chronic sedentariness increases the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer, depression and anxiety, obesity and weak muscles and bones. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people say they are affected by the “holiday blues,” or experience symptoms of depression and anxiety during this time of year. There are many ways to address seasonal gloom and exhaustion, including:
- Physical Activity: Every individual should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to get their blood flowing and boost energy levels. Those who enjoy working out outside, can still do so in the winter by dressing for the weather, warming up inside first, and decreasing workout time.
- Guided Support: If the “holiday blues” persist through two consecutive seasons, it meets the criteria for Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD), a major depressive disorder that can take place during any season. Consider reaching out to a friend, loved one or physician for guidance, resources and support.
- Appropriate Rest: Because winter is naturally darker, it can make it easy to extend a typical eight-hour night of sleep into 12. Believe it or not, sleeping too much is also unhealthy. Regular exercise or artificial lighting can help combat oversleeping. Adults should try for at least six to eight hours each night.
Some people may experience symptoms of arthritis, joint pain or muscle aches throughout winter. One way to remedy these include:
- Low-Impact Exercise: Throughout winter, try activities that promote strength training and burn calories without strain or discomfort. Swimming, water aerobics, tai chi and yoga are great low-impact exercises for those struggling with joint or muscle pain.
Weakened Immune System
Experiencing colds, sore throat, stomach bugs and the flu are all common throughout the winter months. Thankfully, along with a healthy diet and exercise, these tactics can help:
- Get Vaccinated: The flu kills an average of 20,000 people every year–even those considered healthy. Throughout the winter, keep in mind the importance of vaccinations, and where/when flu shots are available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers an easy-to-navigate flu vaccine finder, but Blue Cross members can also visit com/findcare for more information on available care providers.
- Sanitize Spaces: A clean household and workspace can help stop the spread of germs throughout this time of year. Remember to wash hands frequently, sanitize surfaces and avoid contact with others when feeling under the weather.
- Include Probiotics: Probiotics are good bacteria the body needs to promote proper digestion and gut health. Eighty percent of the body’s immunity lies in the digestive tract. Incorporate probiotic foods daily such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, aged cheeses and dark chocolate (with at least 70 percent cacao) to help boost the immune system.
Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.