We are now in between my two least favorite days of the year: Daylight savings time and the Winter Solstice where the days get shorter and darker until what feels like eternal darkness takes over and we can only squeeze out 9 hours of daylight.
Last year at this time, I did a blog about 10 Affordable Tips for a Healthier Winter. I still highly recommend all of those things and you can find that old post here.
This year for survival of Eternal Midwest Winter, here are a few more recommendations that will keep you feeling warm, healthy and mentally at your best.
Feeling warm: I must admit- this is an area of personal struggle for me. Those of you who have been to the office recently may (or may not!) have appreciated the thermostat set to 72 degrees. That is because my much more thermally regulated husband at home has it set to 64 degrees so when I come to work, I like to be toasty! Unfortunately for me, one of the best ways to stay warm all Winter is to work on cold tolerance and lowering your temperature set point by partaking in a regular cold plunge. Yes, I said cold plunge. I know, I’m sad about it too, but the science is sound.
There are various ways to do this ranging from free to pricey. Free would be to plunge yourself into a locally available cold body of water like a lake. Almost free would be to fill up the bathtub with cold water and submerge up to you neck in that. You can also add ice to the bathtub as you are able to tolerate longer time and colder temps. If you don’t have a bathtub, taking an icy cold shower will do as well, though you need a longer time because you can’t be submerged. If you are getting fancy or really want to devote resources to this, you can either purchase a cold plunge (they have both single use and units that the water is only changed every 30-60 days). Finally, if water isn’t your thing and cash is plentiful, you can do cryotherapy at a local cyro place (Restore Wellness has this and has several locations in IL). Ideally you would start at a temperature that is cold, but tolerable. This is highly subjective, as my ‘tolerable’ shower temp is 101 degrees, but I ‘prefer’ 108 degrees. You can start around 60 degrees and work your way down to between 40-50 degrees for 2-10 minutes. Note that cyro facilities like Restore have temps that reach -200 degrees to -256 degrees and time is shorter: from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Health benefits are increased metabolism, lower temperature set point (i.e., be warmer when it’s colder), improved muscle and joint soreness, improved sleep, increased blood flow, reduced inflammation, improved mood. There are numerous studies confirming this and I won’t go into all the details here but if it’s good enough to allow this worm to survive for 46,000 years, you know it’s also good for anti-aging.
A word of caution for those with angina, heart arrythmias or mobility issues- please reach out to me if you are concerned if you can safely participate in cold plunges or consult the resources online.
If you hated that suggestion, the cheat way to feel warm is to load up on heated clothing like heated socks, vests, gloves and jackets. You really won’t get any health benefits, but it sure does feel nice!
Feeling healthy: I firmly believe that health comes from what you put in your body. Hippocrates and Thomas Edison had a good thing going when they were dishing out advice:
Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” Circa 400 B.C.
Thomas Edison: “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Circa 1903
The best way to take care of yourself through out Winter is to eat real food, avoid processed foods, GMO foods, food additives, artificial flavoring and colors and to eat local so the food you consume is more nutrient rich. I know that was a lot of “Don’ts” but honestly inflation has crushed the average American’s grocery bill and one of the best ways to fight back is to just eat real food. All the packaged food is 10-100x more expensive. For example:
- A single apple costs on average $1.00-$1.50 and is loaded in high in fiber and vitamins, whereas an apple cereal bar costs $4 a box and you’d have to eat 2-4 complete boxes (depending on brand), to get the equivalent of one real apple- feeling full yet? Plus add in all the high fructose corn syrup, binders, coloring, flavoring additives and food preservatives that you are consuming along with that. Also consider that you are eating a “food” that was literally ‘manufactured’ months ago and has been sitting in its plastic wrapper on a shelf leaching up the chemicals in the wrapper. I’m not saying apple cereal bars and bad and that no one should buy them, but I am saying, eating a real apple is more nutritious and cheaper.
So, eat real food: real eggs, not egg substitute, preferably pasture raised on a local farm because you will get significantly more from your food. Even though pasture raised might cost more than the cheapest product you can find, the value you are getting is worth it. You eat what your food eats. Chickens eating feed made from other unusable chickens and cardboard produce less nutrient rich eggs. I could keep going: eat real butter- preferably grass-fed butter; eat real beef- preferably grass fed and local, eat real veggies- preferably organic and local. Every time you choose to spend a little more money on a higher quality product, you are investing in yourself. How you choose to spend your money directly reflects what you value for health and nutrition so consider higher quality, unprocessed foods. You will save money over packaged food which can make up for the increased cost of higher quality eggs, meats, poultry and dairy.
Look at packaging labels. If it has to say “made with real fruit” on a fruit cereal bar- that’s sad. High fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, cellulose, potassium bicarbonate, guar gum, fruit puree concentrate, sodium citrate, malic acid, methylcellulose, vegetable glycerin, whey and carrageenan aren’t food. Get the apple!
Preventing Winter Falls: The best fall prevention for any season is increasing your grip strength and working on balance and mobility. This can easily be done at home with exercises. You can find recommendations for your age and current activity and mobility level. Grip strength helps prevent injury from falls. I use these and squeeze and hold while doing random mom chores, but there are several options out there. You will also impress everyone by opening their jars for them. You can also invest in grips for your shoes/boots for icy paths and this may also help you to feel safer to continue to walk outside throughout winter.
Mental health: Another great place to invest in yourself because you’re worth it! Like eating healthy, this works best if it is a total immersion. Winter can be tough on mental health- yes it is dark and cold, yes it’s harder to get outside for movement, but also the holidays are not times of joy for some and family (or lack thereof) stresses people out. If you really want to invest in yourself for mental health this Winter, you will see the most benefit if you do something every day, or even multiple times per day. This means incorporating positive mental health acts into your daily life. You can listen to a podcast consistently, you can listen to music that you find enjoyable or relaxing, you can consciously choose to not engage in behaviors or relationships that result in increased stress or anxiety/depression. Work on becoming aware of buffering activities like food, alcohol, substances, social media, netflix binges. A bright light box can help with seasonal affective blues. This one was recommended to me by a psychiatry colleague. Also- have a plan. Don’t wait until it’s dark, cold and gray to decide what you’re going to do for physical activity, social activity and stress from holiday time. This season comes yearly without fail- decide now how you want to handle it. It’s much harder to make good decisions in the middle of a struggle or stressor. Deciding ahead of time helps you not be surprised by Winter when it inevitably starts. Write your plan down so you can refer to it when you need it.
As usual, I think I over did it with information. Don’t worry if none of this appeals to you or you choose to incorporate none of it for yourself this Winter. The point of writing is to make you aware of options, not to make you feel crappy and inadequate if you can’t do all of this simultaneously. Take away things that make sense or sound interesting or reasonable.
Have a Safe and Happ(ier) Fall & Winter!