We’ve all heard the basics about healthy living during the winter: get enough sleep, take a vitamin, wash your hands, sneeze into your sleeve, and so on. But a well-rounded look into all our most common cold-weather habits is the best way to approach your seasonal well-being. Here, we tapped an array of experts for their tried-and-true tips for staying healthy in the winter by beating colds, bettering your mood, staying slim and more. Try these 12 tips to stay on top of your family’s health this season.
Most people gain three to four pounds over the winter months, and it’s mostly because there’s a lack of motivation. “It’s harder to exercise, it’s darker in the morning and evening, there’s a lot more inclement weather, and we’re eating comfort foods.” says Dr. Johnny Arnouk, sports medicine specialist and orthopedist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. He suggests finding an indoor class or activity to take with a friend — think a basketball league, a spin class, Crossfit or the like. You’ll motivate each other to be there, and it’ll be warmer!
Cut Down on Holiday Beverages
The pies, mac n’ cheese and mashed potatoes can be hard to avoid entirely, but most people are drinking way too many extra calories, too. Hanging out with friends at happy hours and holiday parties instead of taking a walk or a heading to a ball game, and you’ll have a drink in hand more often than you realize. “Try to avoid the eggnog, beer, wine and cocktails,” Dr. Arnouk says. Stick to “light” drinks when you can, cut with water, and make sure to rotate with a glass of H2O every other beverage, too.
Counter Your “Splurge Days”
A lot of people dedicate an entire “cheat day” to unhealthy decisions at the table and with their workouts. “Don’t cheat too much — definitely get your workout in whenever possible,” Dr. Arnouk says. “For instance, on Thanksgiving for the past few years, my wife and I have gone on a three-mile run before we eat.” Get up early on “splurge” days, and do something healthy.
Remember to Hydrate
Your body needs water the whole year, not just during the three hottest months. “Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of pure water — and try not to count coffee and tea,” says Dr. Stacy Mobley, a licensed naturopathic doctor. This will keep your body looking and feeling as fresh as it does during the dog days of summer.
If you’re coughing and sneezing during the winter, you’re not alone. And you might be eating a bit too much of these common foods. “Dairy creates mucus for some people,” Dr. Mobley says. “If you don’t want a stuffy nose from the cold virus, skip cow’s milk and try coconut or almond milk.”
Stay Warm the Smart Way
You’ll be more motivated to move and curb that holiday weight gain if you’re warmer. Do quick exercise whenever possible, and drink healthy beverages to keep your temperature up. “If you can’t do jumping jacks or run around, drink a cup of warm ginger or homemade apple cider,” Dr. Mobley says. “Try hot cacao instead of packaged hot chocolate. Hot chocolate has more sugar than chocolate, and sugar suppresses your immune system. Winter is not a good time for that to happen. Believe me the real thing is better!”
Around the holidays, we love scents — fragrances, trees, garland, candles, and all sorts of products that can raise our amount of chemicals in the home and also contribute to poor indoor air quality. “Try to avoid fragrances, use unscented candles and products,” says Caroline Blazovsky, a nationally recognized healthy home expert, council-certified mold remediator (CMR) and indoor environmentalist (CIE) with over 14 years experience. “This helps to keep VOCs, which are chemicals, to a minimum, and will help prevent asthma and allergy attacks.”
Cut Down on Dander
With pets (and humans) indoors all winter, there’s an uptick in dander around the house. “Make sure to clean with a HEPA vacuum with a sealed bag system and filter after the motor, and dust more frequently in the winter as more people in the house means more skin cells and dust mites,” Blazovsky says. “Make sure to change bedding frequently and wash sheets in temperatures of at least 130 degrees. Most of all, if you have pets, make sure to clean to keep pet protein allergens down.” She suggests wiping down walls in a home at least every six months to remove any proteins that stick to surfaces that do not get removed with everyday cleaning.
Check Your Hormones
As winter hits, visit your doctor for a blood test to test hormone levels. “Imbalances in hormone levels can cause patients to be more tired, depressed, and have other health issues that might be assumed to be the ‘seasonal blues’ or stress from the holidays,” says Gino Tutera, MD, a physician with over 40 years experience on women and men’s health and aging. Don’t just blame a change in season for your mood changes. Ask your doc for a check.
Eat 8-10 Servings of Fruits and Veggies… and Get All Those Colors
We all know that fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber which promotes good health. “Did you know they also contain phytochemicals which help the immune system?” says board-certified physician’s assistant and registered dietician Sheli Tinkelman, MS, PA-C, RD, CCN, ABAAHP. “Each color has different phytochemical activity which is why it is so important to have multiple colors of fruits and vegetables daily.” We tend to eat less fresh fruits and veggies in the winter. You shouldn’t. Feed your family the rainbow.
Up Your Omega-3s
This nutrient is buzzy and for good reason. “These fatty acids decrease inflammation in the body and have a positive effect on our immune system,” Tinkelman says. “You can supplement with fish oil or another good option is to take cod liver oil. The cod liver oil will provide you with omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D.” Don’t skip fish just because it’s less popular in the winter. It’s always healthy.
Stay Clear of Antibacterial Soap
It’s tempting to soap up at every opportunity. Here’s why you shouldn’t: “Antibacterial soap has been shown to lead to bacterial resistance,” Tinkelman says, explaining you should opt for non-antibacterial soap and always wash before eating, especially if you’re around people who are ill. “Your goal is to get rid of the ‘germs’ on your hands. You can do this easily by using a mild cleanser with water and washing for 20-30 seconds. Be sure to dry your hands well and moisturize only if needed. This will help prevent dry skin.”