6 Tips for Winter Health and Well-being

Reprinted with kind permission from Donna, who lives in the Netherlands and writes a blog at Natural-Habits.net

Winter has come early to us here in the Netherlands. I am looking out of my window at a world covered with a blanket of snow. The ducks who make their home on the canal that runs by my home now find it too cold to sit on the shores. Instead they have taken to the water semi-permanently. I’ve seen a few of them with their head under wing, snoozing away, as they’re gently pushed downstream by the current.

Snow and Ice on the SingelSnow and ice cover the canal near my building. The ducks only have a small patch of free surface water to hang out on!

Even though I have a nice warm apartment to shelter me as the birds swim by, I’m beginning to envy them. They are naturally far better equipped for dealing the weather. They know what to do when the temperature drops below freezing.

For me, the Summer-induced, rose-tinted winter amnesia is slipping away and I am remembering that back in January and February we had a  lot of sub-zero temperatures and a lot of snow. I suffered immensely from it, yearning for warmer climes and often ending up feeling cold, sick, and miserable as the cold days went by.

“I’m not built for Winter!”

When you see how much we suffer from the cold, we’re reminded that our species wasn’t built to thrive this far north of the equator. Humans evolved in the tropics and only much later did they make their way further afield, into the cooler corners of the earth.

We know that we’re out of our natural evolutionary climate: We need to wrap up against the elements. Going in and out of heated homes and offices into freezing temperatures stresses our skin, causing cracked lips, chapped skin and dry hair. We’re also more likely to succumb to viruses that take advantage of our weakened immune systems as a result of having to deal with the physical stress of living in a changeable and inhospitable climate. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, our moods can also decline due to the lack of vitamin D our bodies make from the sun’s rays. This is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But we’re up here in the chilly bits of the planet nonetheless, and a lot of us aren’t going anywhere, at least not for a while anyway!

And yet despite having already lived through many cold winters, practising how to keep healthy and happy throughout the cooler months becomes a challenge for many, myself included. With this in mind, I decided to put this little list together to help bring focus and remind us to cultivate good habits that will help us feel our best all winter long.

How to make it through the winter

Keep busy and active. A friend of mine says that it’s no good sitting in one place for too long and she’s right. I’m terrible for sitting still in one place when I’m busy with something. It’s not before too long that I start to feel physically slow and stiff. It’s important to make sure to get up from your desk or the sofa regularly to get the limbs moving and the blood flowing. I also like to do a yoga practise daily which helps me stay supple. I’m not much for going out running when it’s cold, so yoga makes an excellent supplement /substitute to my usual exercise routine.

Go outside each day. Take the time to appreciate nature in wintertime and all the wonders it has to offer. It’s all too easy to shut yourself away indoors and only venture out when necessary. Take advantage of a time when the weather isn’t so harsh to go for a walk in the park and take in your surroundings. Observe and note how plants and animals deal with the wintertime. It’s fascinating. Not only will this help strengthen your connection with nature, you’ll also be getting a dose of that much needed vitamin D.

Eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies (make soup!). We should be doing this all year around, but now is the most important time to get the good stuff in to bolster our immune systems. My favourite thing to do when it’s cold outside is to make soup – and lots of it! A big pot ready on the stove offers days worth of inside-out warming pleasure, and it’s a nice treat for visitors who are coming in from the elements too.

Be aware of the effects of central heating. Being indoors in artificially heated rooms can have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing too. Central heating dries the air out which in turn dries us out! Try placing a small container of water on or near your radiators. The water will need replenishing every few days, but this does help. Also, open the window and let a bit of fresh air in for a little bit each day. That way you won’t dessicate yourself!

Consider taking supplements. Despite being vehemently against pills and supplements in any shape or form the rest of the year, this is the only time where I feel I might have to concede and take a supplement or two for my own good. With the lack of sun exposure, you’ve got to do what you can to avoid succumbing to symptoms of Seasonal Affect Disorder. Being stuck here in short daylight hours and inhospitable conditions takes its toll. Before you know it you’re on the slippery road to glumness, misery and depression. I know from experience that it can be hard to pull yourself up to so much as care about any of the points above. A vitamin D supplement can really help to stave off the onset.

The Winter Vacation. If you are someone like myself who really suffers through the winter, consider swapping your Summer vacation for a Winter one. Head to some part of the world where it’s warm and sunny and enjoy two weeks soaking up the sun. We did this earlier in the year and I would go so far as to say it saved my life! Okay, well, maybe not that far. But coming from -8 to +25 Celsius within a matter of hours was quite wonderful. During our short stay in the tropics, I drank up the sunshine and appreciated its all its benefits. My body knew it had come home.

Opting out of winter entirely

Some birds and animals have the right idea. Instead of toughing it out in a climate too cold for them they migrate to another part of the world where the weather is milder and food more abundant. There are many people who actually do something similar, spending months at a time in places like Costa Rica, Thailand and Hawaii. This is more than a holiday — you essentially live at your destination for an extended period.

For the last couple of years I’ve been giving serious thought about joining this flock of migratory humans. If opting out of winter entirely sounds like something you’re interested in for the long term, I recommend you take a look at this course called How to Move to a Tropical Paradise. I have taken this course myself and I’m happy to say that it’s full of useful practical information directly from someone who actually lives this lifestyle. It removes a lot of the worries and daunting from this wonderful notion of being able to migrate your way out of the winter blues.

How do you do manage?

For those of us who are stuck here in the freezing north for the time being, I want to ask how you handle the colder months? Perhaps you have a tip or two to add to this list and if so, I’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a happy winter!