You’ve winterized your house, your car, and your sprinkler system. But have you winterized yourself? Long, cold weeks of frigid weather and little sunshine can take their toll on body, mind, and soul. Now it’s time to focus on yourself. Here are 11 natural therapies that can help preserve your health all winter long.
1. Eat Warming Foods.
Stay toasty from the inside out with warming herbs, spices, and foods. According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), winter is associated with the kidneys, considered the primary source of the body’s essential energy, called “qi.” The kidneys and qi are easily depleted in the winter, and can be nourished with warming foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, seaweed, beans, rutabagas, parsnips, turnips, eggs, and meat. And focus on stews, soups, braises, and roasts—cooking longer, at lower temperatures, draws heat deep into the food.
2. Discover the Best Ways to Hydrate.
In the winter, forced-air heat and cold temperatures lead to dry air with low humidity. Add the fact that most people tend to drink fewer fluids in the winter, and you’re likely to experience dry skin, frizzy locks, and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections. Dry air irritates mucous membranes, the body’s natural barrier against infection. Plus, certain viruses survive longer in low humidity. Some studies suggest lack of humidity also contributes more to sinus congestion than any other variable. So keep your body hydrated. Run a humidifier in your bedroom while you sleep; take regular steams at a local health club; or set bowls of water out around your house. And drink plenty of fluids—green tea with ginger hydrates while fueling your body with warming herbs and antioxidants.
3. Boost Your Skin’s Moisture Retention.
Skin is depleted by cold weather, harsh wind, and dry forced-air heat. Protect and soothe your skin with nourishing creams and lotions. For maximum moisturizing, apply lotion or cream within three minutes after bathing or showering to lock in moisture. Hands usually need a super-rich selection to prevent chapping and drying. And don’t forget lips: wind, cold, and sun can lead to cracks and fissures. If dry lips are a chronic problem, make sure you’re getting enough B-complex vitamins, zinc, and iron—deficiencies in these vitamins are linked to dry lips. Certain foods such as walnuts and pomegranates can also help boost skin’s moisture.
For dry skin and lips, look for products that contain the following:
* Plant oils and herbal extracts: Olive oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, borage oil, vitamin E oil, shea butter, and mango butter are among the best choices. Aloe and calendula are excellent herbal moisturizers and skin healers.
* Hyaluronic acid: While the body produces this naturally, it diminishes with age and can be replenished topically and internally for softer skin. If dry lips are an issue, try a lip balm with hyaluronic acid.
* Humectants: Glycerin and Manuka honey are among the best choices. For maximum moisturizing, apply lotion or cream within three minutes after bathing or showering to lock in moisture. Hands usually need a super-rich selection to prevent chapping and drying. And don’t forget lips: wind, cold, and sun can lead to cracks and fissures.
Winter is a time of stillness, quiet, and drawing in. Take advantage of inner silence and peace with a daily meditation practice. Start by creating a cozy, comfortable space—it doesn’t have to be elaborate or spacious, but it should be peaceful and calm. The idea is to set aside a space that’s used exclusively for meditation, even if it’s just the corner of your bedroom. Decorate the area with a few objects that put you in a meditative space, such as candles, incense, flowers, cushions, blankets, or sacred statues. Just remember that too much clutter is distracting, so don't overdo it. Ideally, you’ll meditate every day, and consistency is more important than length of time. Your practice may be as simple as closing your eyes and paying attention to your breath, or as elaborate as mantra repetition and chanting. Need ideas? Find a variety of meditation practices at http://feastforthesoul.org/.
5. Scrub Off Dead Skin.
Dry winter weather means more dead skin cells. As skin cells build up, they prevent lotions and creams from penetrating. For moisturizers to work their magic, you’ll need to gently exfoliate that surface layer. Ditch dead skin cells with a mixture of almond or coconut oil and sugar; gently rub over body, and rinse in the shower. For your face, more TLC is required. Try a natural exfoliant that also contains moisturizing and soothing ingredients such as Alaffia’s Coconut Face Scrub.
6. Wash Your Hair Less.
Cold, dry winter air means dull, frizzy locks. Hydrate hair with simple winter fixes. Start by minimizing washing—too many shampoo sessions can strip oils and leave hair dry and brittle. Make a DIY dry shampoo for touchups: Using an old makeup brush, apply a little cornstarch or arrowroot (for light hair) onto oily roots; for dark hair, use cocoa powder. When you do shampoo, use a moisturizing variety and switch to a more emollient conditioner; also consider a leave-in conditioner to keep hair smooth and shiny all day. To banish morning frizzies, use a silk pillowcase can banish morning frizzies. Combat hat-head with this simple solution: wrap your hair in a silk scarf before pulling on a wool cap to minimize static electricity. Certain foods can help dry hair too by providing vital nutrients to moisture-starved tresses.
Resist the urge to hibernate or make excuses, and seek out invigorating activities instead. Try cross-country skiing, ice-skating, sledding, and hiking. If you live near a lake, explore ice fishing. If you have kids, build snowmen and forts, have an epic snowball battle, or make snow angels. For days when the weather is just too brutal, plan some fun indoor backups—join a rock-climbing gym, sign up for dance classes, or try a spin class. Cold winter weather can affect flexibility by restricting heat and blood flow, says John Schaeffer, fitness trainer and president of the Winning Factor Sports Sciences Training Center. Also try Holographic Acupressure Discs. They work by aiding blood flow, which increases muscle temperature to reduce the risk of injury. For more details, visit www.winningfactor.com. Bonus points: Connect with workout buddies, and encourage each other to brave the cold. Reward yourself afterward with a steam or sauna, and schedule regular massages to keep muscles supple.
8. Protect Your Immune System.
Ward off winter colds and flu with helpful supplements that support immunity. Some to try:
Astragalus, a Chinese herb that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions, helps support and protect the immune system to prevent colds and respiratory infections. It’s been shown to stimulate white blood cells and can also prevent seasonal allergies.
Zinc is essential for immune cell function, and even mild deficiencies can suppress immune function. Studies suggest that zinc lozenges can prevent respiratory tract infections or shorten their duration.
Mushrooms, Reishi, maitake, and turkey tail mushrooms protect against viruses and support overall immune function. Some studies also suggest that they’re even more potent when taken with ashwagandha, an ayurvedic herb that promotes immune function.
Probiotics protect against a variety of bacterial and viral illnesses, and are especially useful in preventing and treating diarrhea and inflammation. They’re crucial if you’ve taken a recent course of antibiotics, and can help replenish beneficial bacteria that are destroyed by antibiotics.
Don't underestimate the power of sunshine in enhancing winter health. But you’ll have to work for it: summer months average 15 hours of daylight and sunshine. In January, you’ll see only about half that—and if you work a typical 9-to-5 job, most of those will be spent in your office or your car. Because circadian rhythm is largely governed by light exposure, sleep and mood can be dramatically affected. And since sun is the body’s primary source of vitamin D, immune function can suffer as well.
Schedule your day around the sun:
- Get outside for at least 10 minutes of sun a day, with as much skin exposed as possible.
- Schedule walks during the lunch hour, when the sun is at the highest point in the sky.
- Take vitamin D3 supplements as a backup. Most studies suggest at least 1,000 IU per day.
Summer’s berries, melons, tomatoes, and greens are packed with protective antioxidants. But you’ll still find plenty of those in winter’s offerings. Pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and acorn squash are especially high in carotenoids such as alpha carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin—antioxidants that support the immune system and enhance mood. In one study, as levels of carotenoids and other antioxidants increased, the likelihood of depression decreased. For the simplest boosting soup ever, try this: halve two acorn (or other) squash and one yellow onion, roast cut side down at 400°F until tender, scoop seeds out of squash, remove skin, and purée squash flesh and onion in a blender with 1 can coconut milk, 2 cups vegetable broth, and 1 teaspoon dried rosemary.
The meditative quiet and stillness of winter can feel like depression, especially when coupled with short days, long nights, and post-holiday blues. During the summer, when neighbors are in their yards, people are walking dogs, and farmers’ markets are in full swing, it’s easy to interact—not so much in winter, when snow and cold keep us inside. Make an effort to socialize, so that solitude doesn’t slip into sadness. Try organizing a monthly dinner party, with a different country theme every month, joining a book club, or having frequent potlucks. If you work at home, take your laptop to the coffee shop or the library to make interacting easier. And if you’re prone to depression, pay special attention to any signs of mood swings. Contact your health care provider if you have any doubts.