Health Matters: Making the most of winter
By Kiersten Ahlm
The holidays are behind us, and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. With the end of the holiday season comes winter. For some, this is the most dreaded time of the year, even here in the sunny south. But it doesn’t necessarily have to mean lethargy, boredom and sometimes — sadness. Here are some helpful tips to get the most out of this season of rest and reflection.
Move your body — bonus points if it’s outside. It’s tempting to give yourself a break from exercise in the wintertime. After all, it’s cold outside, so why would you want to make the situation worse by exercising? But the reality is you might make it worse by not exercising. Exercise releases those feel-good hormones — endorphins and dopamine — which are also energizing and can balance out the lethargy we feel from the shorter winter days. Getting out in nature and going for a walk can be even more impactful — the brisk air will rejuvenate you. Even a 10-minute walk has its benefits.
Learn something new or do something you don’t have time for during the warmer months. Usually too busy to cook or bake? Winter is a great time to try some new recipes. What could be cozier than the smell of a hearty soup stewing in your slow cooker? Also, digestion can be sluggish in the winter, which makes raw food harder to digest. Soups and stews are on constant rotation in my house during the colder months. They make great leftovers for lunch the next day or to stock your freezer with for those nights you don’t feel like cooking. Cook once, eat twice (or more!).
Don’t like the kitchen? Take a class! With platforms like MasterClass and Coursera, you can learn in the comfort of your own home. They offer everything from gardening (which will get you thinking about SPRING) to “How to Think Like an FBI Profiler” (which could be beneficial in parenting, no?) The sky's the limit here.
If online classes aren’t for you (which, coming off a pandemic, I think we’re all craving a little human interaction) some in-person options might be a dance or martial arts class. Doing something active will get those beloved endorphins going. If you are the creative type, try a pottery or photography class. Getting your creative juices flowing gets you in a state of flow, where you lose track of time. It also increases your dopamine levels, which is in itself motivating. You might even make some new like-minded friends!
Winter is a great time to implement a self-care routine, which can also be very beneficial in the warmer months when you are more on the go. I think most of us were kind of raised to think self-care is selfish and that we should put others first. But in actuality, self-care is vital to both our physical and mental health. It gives us time to destress, prevents us from burnout and helps us to better show up for our loved ones. It’s that whole oxygen mask analogy.
Self-care looks different to everyone, but the basic idea is to spend time doing something that calms you. For some this is calling a friend, for others it’s making a cup of tea and curling up with a book. Even spending five minutes of quiet time in the morning can be beneficial. Just think about what recharges you and try to make it a daily habit.
Stay connected. Don’t let the cold winter months leave you disconnected from your social network. Having a plan on repeat throughout the winter is ideal. This can look like a virtual book club, a weekly exercise class with a friend or a potluck club. Try to have something that you truly look forward to on your social calendar as much as possible.
Bring a little of the outside into your home by having a few indoor plants. Nurturing and watching something grow can breathe new life into your day. Plants are also great for cleaning the air, which is ideal for when it’s too cold to open your windows.
Get your vitamin D first thing in the morning by walking outside or drinking your coffee by a sunny window. If you need to, call in the big guns and invest in a light box. People swear by them when it comes to managing seasonal affective disorder.
Last but certainly not least, try to notice those little day to day things that bring you little spurts of joy. For me, it’s that first sip of coffee in the morning and smelling my neighbor’s tea olive tree when I walk my dogs, just to name a couple! This little habit will carry over to the rest of the year and is essential in living a joyful life, if you ask me.
Slowing down in the winter can help you build some healthy habits that will be beneficial year-round. So, get that soup stewing, curl up with a book and enjoy some quiet time. Spring will be here before we know it!
Kiersten Ahlm is an integrative nutrition coach who specializes in blood sugar balance. To find out more about her services, check out her website at www.kahlmcoaching.com.