The winter season is almost upon us, and although it may be a time of less sunlight, more sniffles and more morning stiffness, it can also be a wonderful time to experience the quiet serenity of nature and the joy of the first fall of snow.
Here are 10 tips from our practitioners on ways that you can stay healthy and happy all winter long.
3 Tips for Supporting Your Immune System
If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that respiratory viruses such as colds, the flu and Covid-19, all spread more easily when we spend more time indoors. Here are three tips for keeping your immune system strong throughout the winter months.
- Maintain Proper Levels of Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a hugely important role in our immune system, and if you live here in the Midwest and spend a lot of time indoors, it’s likely that you’re not getting as much Vitamin D as you need. To get the proper amount, Dr. Kelsie Lazzell, DC, DN, a functional medicine practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says you would need to get 20 minutes of daily full-forearm sunlight exposure. When it’s too cold to spend 20 minutes outside, she suggests using a full-spectrum light box, such as a Happy Light, or taking a vitamin D3 supplement or a cod liver oil supplement. You can also get vitamin D through foods, such as sunlight-exposed mushrooms or cold-water fish, such as salmon.
- Take A Vitamin C Supplement
Want to stay healthy all winter long? The best tip from Jennifer Eisenstein, a family nurse practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, is something your mom probably told you, too: Get enough vitamin C. “I recommend at least one gram of vitamin C a day for adults and 500 mg a day for children,” she says.
Research has shown that taking vitamin C can reduce the length and severity of the common cold. That’s because when your body is fighting inflammation or an infection, your immune cells pump more vitamin C to help the cells fight off the infection. You can get vitamin C in foods, such as oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes and more, or take a vitamin C supplement, such as Ester C, or a whole foods vitamin C product that has acerola cherries in it.
- Get Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Patricia DeAngelis, a functional medicine nurse practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says another way to keep viruses at bay is to get enough omega-3 fatty acids, which serve to decrease inflammation, boost your immune system, and can even have a positive effect on depression and mood. One way to do that is to take a fish oil supplement, which is a good source of two types of omega-3 fatty acids. You can get a third type of omega-3 fatty acids in nuts and seeds.
3 Tips for Avoiding Joint and Back Pain
As the weather gets colder, our bodies can often feel achier and stiffer than they do during the summer months. And of course, winter also means more chances of slipping on ice or injuring ourselves shoveling snow, which can lead to even more aches and pains. Here are two tips for keeping our joints and muscles in good shape this winter.
“Stretch, especially before going outside or exercising, to loosen stiff joints. This reduces stiffness and prevents joint injuries and will help keep you limber and active,” says Dr. Cheryl Schwartz, DO, a primary care an internal medicine physician at the Center for Holistic Medicine. “Even a short stretch in the morning or before bed can help you reduce chronic pain symptoms in winter months.”
Schwartz suggests trying yoga, pilates, Tai Chi, or QiGong, or just doing some simple stretches on your own at home. “And don’t forget your neck,” Dr. Schwartz says. “We spend so many hours on our computers, phone, and tablets, that our necks suffer.”
Dr. Schwartz says you can do the following neck stretch twice a day, or whenever your neck feels tight. (Note: No part of these stretches should be painful. If you experience pain while stretching, back off a bit. If that does not help, see your doctor).
— Sit straight but comfortably in a chair. Make sure your chin is parallel with the ground. Turn your head to the right. Hold for one deep breath in and out. Turn your head back to center position and hold for one deep breath. Now turn your head to the left and hold for one deep breath. Again, turn your head to center and hold for one deep breath.
–Tip your head to the right (as if touching your right ear to your right shoulder, but do not lift your shoulder). Hold for one deep breath. Tip your head back to center and hold for one deep breath. Tip your head to the left and hold for one deep breath. Tip your head back to center and hold for one deep breath. Tip your head forward (bring your chin towards your chest). You should feel a nice stretch in your lower neck/upper back. Hold for one deep breath.
— Bring your head back up to center and hold for one deep breath.
- Wear Smartwool Clothing to Keep Your Muscles Warm
When we feel cold, we tend to tense up our muscles more, causing reduced mobility and flexibility in our joints. To keep your muscles warm and limber, Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, clinical director at at the Center for Holistic Medicine, has a cozy solution. “I have recommended to several people that feel cold in the winter that they should shop for Smartwool products that they can wear as base layers next to the skin instead of cotton. What a difference! The clothing is expensive but worth the investment in my opinion because they really work,” he says.
3. Wear Layers of Clothing Instead of Bulky Clothing
Most people assume that putting on a big bulky winter coat is the best way to keep your muscles warm in the winter. But Mary Ellen Boyte, DN, a naprapathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says it’s better to dress in layers instead. “Layers of clothing act as an insulator, and the air between the layers are insulation as well,” Boyte explains. “However, avoid wearing cotton next to the skin. Cotton is not a choice because it holds water, so when you perspire, that will make you feel cold.”
Learn How to Shovel Snow Correctly
Dr. Mitchell Katz, DC, a chiropractor at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says he always sees more patients every winter when people hurt their lower backs by shoveling snow improperly. To avoid straining your back or herniating a disc, Dr. Katz says you should follow these simple rules when shoveling snow.
— Lighten the load. Don’t lift more snow than you can handle. This might mean using a smaller shovel.
— Push rather than lift. You can simply push the snow up against the side of your driveway.
— Allow for rest time. Unless your muscles are well conditioned for this type of work, they will fatigue rather quickly.
— Wear an elastic back support, which will provide extra support.
— Use a shovel with a curved handle to allow for better posture.
— Incorporate the hip hinge when lifting any loads, especially when heavy, wet snow is involved. The hip hinge lets you keep the curve in your lower back and incorporates the hip (buttocks) into the lift to give you more power and cause less stress on the intervertebral discs and spinal ligaments.
3 Tips for Maintaining Good Mental Health
It’s no secret that darker, shorter days can cause some people to feel more depressed. Here are a few tips to help you stay positive and happy throughout the winter months.
- Do Something Kind for Someone Else
Dr. Gore says one way to avoid depression this winter is to give back to others. “Lend a helping hand, call someone you love, start a good habit, and begin the practice of living with a little bit of joy,” he says.
- Practice Self-Love
Soula Souflakis, LCPC, a therapist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says although it may be tough to find ways to alleviate your depression, she says one of the most effective strategies is to make yourself a priority and practice self-love. “Self-love and prioritizing oneself can be expressed in different ways,” Souflakis says. “For example, every morning upon waking, look in the mirror and tell your reflection ‘I love you.’ Exercise regularly. Release your endorphins and take care of and respect your body. Eat a balanced diet. And every night before bed, look back at the reflection in the mirror and tell it one thing that you did that you are proud of.”
- Do Things That Make You Happy
Carol Gore, LCSW, a therapist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says it’s important to take time for the things that bring you joy. “The antidote and the healing to the cold and darkness of winter is to actively and consciously bringing in warmth and light into one’s life in very practical and manageable ways on a daily basis by doing things that uplift the heart and enliven the spirit,” she says. “Examples might be calling a relative you love, meeting a friend for lunch, writing a daily gratitude list, cuddling in bed with a wonderful book or taking a hot bubble bath. The creative possibilities are endless!”