Winter officially begins on Saturday, Dec. 21 and with it, some additional health precautions you should take in order to stay healthy throughout the season and beyond.
1. Get your flu shot.
It's not too late to get your flu shot! Flu season can last as late as May, so everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot to prevent the flu and its potentially serious complications like pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections.
People with a higher risk of catching the flu are pregnant women, adults over 50 years old, young children, and people with compromised immune systems.
2. Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
People may feel more tired than normal in the winter, so they might take naps, go to bed earlier and sleep longer – but this isn’t necessarily healthier. Too much sleep (over nine hours a day) can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, headaches, depression, and heart disease.
When the sun sets earlier in the winter, your body’s levels of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, begin to rise in the early afternoon or evening, causing you to feel sluggish and tired during the day.
You can keep your melatonin levels balanced by getting outside consistently throughout the day and exposing yourself to sunlight. This may suppress melatonin production during the day, reducing fatigue and giving your body an extra boost of melatonin at night so you can sleep better.
3. Exercise regularly.
Getting exercise in the winter is important for boosting your immunity during cold and flu season and may remove bacteria in your lungs and airways.
The CDC recommends adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as running, hiking, or swimming.
Working out in cooler weather also has a unique advantage. Studies show that exercising in cold weather can transform white fat, specifically belly and thigh fat, into calorie-burning brown fat.
Exercising outside can also reduce symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Even if it's cloudy, you can get fresh air and light, reducing SAD symptoms of anxiety, loneliness, loss of interest, mood swings, or sadness.
4. Eat healthy.
Consuming at least two servings of fruit and at least three servings of vegetables a day can give your immune system a boost of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients help you if you come in contact with cold or flu viruses.
Eating healthy consists of getting enough nutrients and being careful not to overeat. When your body is exposed to cold weather, your core body temperature drops and can cause you to feel hungrier. Eating regular meals, mixed with healthy snacking, can help regulate your appetite and fuel your body’s heat mechanism.
5. Get outside!
Getting outside during the day can combat negative symptoms of depression often associated with prolonged time indoors. Additionally, when people spend time outdoors, especially in the forest, they breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that come from plants. Studies show these chemicals increase the activity in a type of white blood cell that kills virus-infected cells in our bodies.
Spending time outdoors has also been shown to reduce stress and improve mood. Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke. Spending three days a week outdoors for at least 20 to 30 minutes can increase your physical and mental well-being.