Aaaah, so winter (which we were promised was coming) is here. Finally a break from the sweltering heat, harsh sun rays and air-conditioned offices – which is always too cold for some and not cold enough for others. Winter – the time for thick hearty soups, cosying up in front of the fire and hot chocolate!

With all its delights, winter is also the time when we need to take extra care of our bodies and create healthy habits. Outdoor activities go indoors and we need to take extra care of ourselves on all levels – physically, mentally and socially. Cold weather leads to a decrease in body temperature, which makes us more susceptible to winter diseases. In this article, we are going to have a look at how we can take precautions to supercharge our bodies and ensure we stay healthy.

Keep eating healthily

Just because it’s winter does not mean we have to comfort eat our way to summer again. Keep a well-balanced diet and include lean protein, whole grains, legumes, herbs and spices together with loads of seasonal winter fruit (mmm, oranges and naartjies) and vegetables. Make sure the food you eat is rich in Vitamin C (which strengthens the immune system and helps to keep your body healthy), antioxidants (like kale, broccoli, spinach, and berries) and natural oils (like nuts and olive oil). 

Exercise

Don’t fear the cold – get out there and continue exercising. Remember, exercise boosts your immune system and improves your defences against flu and colds, strengthens your muscles, boosts your stamina, helps lower your blood pressure and is a mood stabilizer. It stimulates your brain and leaves you happier (by releasing dopamine and endorphins) and makes you feel less anxious.

Moisturise!

Cold weather makes our skin dry which results in itchy skin, chapped lips or cracked heels. Your skin stays the best protective barrier against disease. Cracked and irritated skin could lead to further infections which you are trying to prevent. Find a lotion that works for your skin or if you do not like lotion, use a humidifier or hydrate from the inside by drinking lots of water.

Water

Just because it is winter does not mean you need to drink less water. Keep your daily water intake the same as you did in summer (approximately 2.7 litres for women and 3.7 litres for men). Remember, water cleans our system and removes toxins, it also carries nutrients to body cells and balances your body fluids. Keep your water drinking habits alive!

Sleep

Not so difficult in winter as there is nothing as inviting as a lovely fluffy, warm bed when it is cold and windy outside. Do not fall into the trap of falling asleep in front of the television or the fireplace. You are going to eventually be rudely awakened by some horrible noise which will interrupt your sleeping patterns. Continue sleeping patterns that enhance your health and keep your body in good health.

Hygiene

Maintain good hygiene. Keep washing your hands correctly – at least 20 seconds under running, hot water. Washing your hands regularly will help protect yourself and prevent the spread of germs. This will not only keep you but also your family protected from bacteria and germs. 

Keep checking your health

Keep checking your health statistics to ensure that your health is in tiptop shape. Check your blood pressure and any other health conditions you might have. Health problems like asthma, flu, joint pains, and so on, should be treated immediately and not ignored. If you know that your body is susceptible to flu, consider taking a flu shot.

Let the sunshine in

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression occurring in seasons with less sunlight. It is suffered most in the Northern Hemisphere where people are shrouded in darkness during winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, we do not have that problem but, because we are mostly indoors during winter, we still need to “catch some rays.” There is a definite correlation between sunlight and serotonin (the hormone that stabilises moods). Apart from the added Vitamin D – it just feels wonderful to defrost in the lovely South African winter sunlight…

Clothing

Make sure that you dress for the cold and not just for fashion. If you do not want to wear warm, puffy jackets, make sure that you wear a layer under your clothes (thermal underwear is most accommodating). You do not need to look like the marshmallow man in winter but you have to keep your head, heart and toes warm throughout the day.

Keep in touch with your people

Unlike in summer, where we join family and friends outdoors for a picnic or braai next to the pool, we tend to spend time indoors and ‘shut’ society out. This is not good for your mental or social well-being. Invite friends over for a card or board game around the kitchen or dining room table. Have a fun night in and don’t shy away from dinner invitations from friends and family.

Find a hobby

And when you do wish to just stay indoors over the weekend, find a hobby which you and your family can indulge in. It will keep your mind busy and break up the monotony of the day. Paint, knit a sweater, play an instrument or build something. We release feel-good hormones when we do something that feels good – hobbies accomplish the same feeling. Find something that you like, and if you don’t like your first choice – try a second, third, or fourth one. But do something other than your ‘usual’.

Protect yourself and others

And finally, if you do not feel well – stay at home. The risk of spreading germs and bacteria that you might have picked up is too high. You need to isolate, not only for people you might infect but also for your own sake – to recuperate and become strong again. 

Be safe, hydrate and stick to your healthy habits. Winter is here – enjoy it rather than fear it.

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Author James Forson

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