No matter how healthy you are the rest of the year, getting sick in the winter may seem unavoidable. But there are steps you can take to boost your immune system and stay healthy this winter, according to Natasha P. Ferguson, MD, a primary care physician at Highland Medical, P.C., Palisades Pulmonary in West Nyack, NY.
Here are her winter wellness tips:
Cut the carbs.
It’s easy to fill up on carbohydrates during the winter. The more you eat, the more your cravings increase. This leads to winter weight gain. Focus on getting enough protein, especially at breakfast. For example, have some scrambled eggs mixed with low-fat cheese. “A high-protein breakfast will make you feel full longer,” Dr. Ferguson says.
Other ways to eat your way to health this winter:
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce joint pain and stiffness. Good sources of omega-3s are fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines); nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts) and plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil).
- Increase fiber to decrease inflammation. Good sources of fiber include beans, whole grains, brown rice, popcorn, nuts, berries, and bran cereal.
- Boost your immune system with green, leafy vegetables (such as spinach and broccoli), and spices such as turmeric, ginger, and garlic.
- Ask your doctor if you should add supplements such as vitamin C to reduce cold symptoms and vitamin D to help your body absorb important nutrients such as vitamin A, iron, and calcium. During warmer months your body absorbs vitamin D from sunlight, but during the winter, you may not get enough of the vitamin from the sun.
Wash your hands thoroughly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with basic soap and water for a full 20 seconds to get rid of viruses and bacteria. Dr. Ferguson doesn’t recommend using antibacterial soap. “There’s no evidence that antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water,” she says. “And they may increase the risk of antibiotic resistance.”
Hand sanitizers are fine to use if you don’t have access to soap and water, but they aren’t nearly as effective as using soap and water, Dr. Ferguson notes.
Get enough sleep.
Everyone should get 7 – 9 hours of sleep a night throughout the year, she recommends. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. During the winter when you have less exposure to light, you may feel sleepier. “If that’s the case, just go to bed earlier,” Dr. Ferguson says.
Find fun ways to exercise indoors.
If you’re not a fan of winter sports, you can find plenty of ways to stay fit inside. “Throughout the year, every week you should be getting 150 of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise,” Dr. Ferguson says. “This is good for your overall health, as well as your mental well-being.” Staying active can help counteract feelings of sadness caused by less light exposure during the winter months, she says.
If it’s not convenient to get to a gym, you can find plenty of exercise videos online. “Get some weights, or even soup cans, and put on a video and start moving,” she says.
Protect yourself… and others.
To keep yourself and your family safe this winter:
- Make sure your home’s carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working.
- Salt your driveways on snowy, sleeting days, and use handrails when going up and down outer stairs so you don’t slip.
- If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, it’s not too late. You can still protect yourself against flu outbreaks later in the winter.
To protect your family and others when you’re sick, sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow. Dr. Ferguson says, “When you’re sick, stay home—you’ll feel better faster, and
your coworkers will thank you for not infecting them!”