The winter doldrums can bring any of us down, especially as winter drags its slushy feet into the months we expect to be like spring. With the decreased amount of sunlight and chilly weather, we tend to hunker down in the house for long stretches of time. A cup of hot tea and a warm blanket is great comfort, but after a while, being cooped up inside can wear on your emotional, physical, and mental well being. Here are some tips for how to make sure your whole body stays healthy and fit during these long winter days.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Your immune system has a lot it’s up against during the months we spend indoors. Providing your body with the right amount of healthy nutrients keeps your whole system in tip-top shape. Choose a diet filled with fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, and try to avoid eating lots of sweets and processed foods.
Foods like mushrooms, garlic, citrus fruits, herbs and spices, yogurt, apples, bananas, onion, and chicken soup all support your immune system.
When it’s cold out, the idea of bundling up and going for a walk might not sound that appealing, but exercise is an important part of your ongoing wellness. Even a short, brisk walk can go a long way toward keeping you fit.
The Salvation Army Kroc Center in Ashland has an indoor track that is open to the public for free, or even take a stroll around the local Home Depot or Walmart to get your steps in. Thirty minutes of physical activity a day can help you maintain or lose weight, improve your mental health, reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improve your quality of sleep, according to the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Okay, it’s cold, but winter is also one of Ohio’s most beautiful seasons. Explore the paved paths of Freer Field or Byers Woods, or strap on your mud boots and tromp around Sandusky Woods and other serene parks in Ashland County. Just being out in nature is proven to improve our mental and physical well being.
Reduce the Spread of Germs
With cold, flu, Covid, and other viruses more rampant during our winter, indoor months, good hygiene, hand washing, keeping your distance from others who are sick, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, and avoiding touching your face can reduce your chances of getting sick and spreading illness in the community.
Water is our body’s purification system. It flushes our system of waste and toxins through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements. It helps us maintain the right body temperature. It lubricates joints and protects sensitive tissues. But in the winter, because we’re not as active, we might not notice being thirsty or dehydrated as easily, and older adults don’t sense thirst as well as younger people, which also can cause dehydration to go unnoticed.
The amount of water adults need varies from person to person, but the best way to ensure you stay hydrated throughout the day is to drink a glass of water with every meal, when you take medication, and when you are socializing.
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women, keeping in mind that about 20% of our fluid intake comes from food. The old recommendation to drink 8 glasses of water a day is a reasonable goal.
Make or Listen to Music
Studies have shown that listening to music over a long period of time has a cumulative effect on our mental health, reducing levels of depression. Another study says that listening to “feel good” music for just five minutes can make you feel happier, more satisfied with life, and more joyful.
The effects are even greater when you are actively making music. Singing, dancing, and drumming all release endorphins and can alter your mood. So, turn on your favorite tune, sing along, and get your moves on!
Sign up for a painting or ceramics class at the Tin Can Chandelier. Pull out a sketch pad and pencil. Write a poem. Journal. Bake. Knit. Whittle a stick. Creativity is another natural mood booster that can reduce stress, lower anxiety and depression, and improve overall satisfaction in your life.
Read a Good Book (or Series of Books)
The days are long, especially these cold, winter days, and while it might be tempting to sit for hours binge watching your favorite Netflix series, it might not be the best choice for your mental well being. Reading, on the other hand, has been proven to sharpen your cognitive abilities, reduce stress, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Find a good series or pair up with a neighbor to share a good story, and then get together to talk about it (now you’re socializing and reading, two things that are good for your mental health).
Connect, Laugh, and Be Grateful
Make time for friends. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just invite someone over for a cup of coffee or tea, or meet them out at Downtown Perk, Goldberry Roasting Company, Vines Bakery, or one of our amazing Ashland restaurants. Socializing is good for your mental health.
And laughter, especially laughter with a loved one or friend, is indeed good medicine. But so is gratitude. Incorporate a habit of gratitude into your life, and you’ll discover that gratitude is a natural fuel for joy, and joy a natural fuel for more gratitude. Instead of a downward spiral of anxiety and sadness, it’s an upward spiral of joy and gratitude.
And Get Enough Sleep
Sleep needs vary from person to person and from each stage of life, but most adults need around 7-8 hours of sleep a night in order to function well. Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, even on the weekends, to keep your body in rhythm and fully rested.
You can make the most of this cold weather season and keep healthy at the same time. For more mental health resources, visit the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County.