With the holiday season slowly rearing its pretty head, it’s time you brace yourself for a change of season.
Winter is oh-so-welcoming with all that it brings—a hearty Thanksgiving, a joyful Christmas, a festal New Year’s Eve, a hoard of white weddings, and so much more. Keeping our head on our shoulders amidst all the dizzying twirls on the dance floor, high-spirited (literally) chugs of beer, and aimless snowman building, let’s remember to take care of our health. A good start is realizing where we’re going wrong.
Common Health Mistakes To Avoid
1. Not Drinking Enough Water
You won’t sweat much (there’s no comparison to summer), so you won’t feel thirsty. But your body needs water for all its reactions irrespective of the season and how active your sweat glands are.
Continue to carry (and use) your water bottle and set your ‘drink water’ reminders (apps are useful that way) right through winter.
As you remain crouched under your warm, right-temperature-beyond-comfy quilt while you wriggle your toes in your flannel PJ’s and debate whether or not to get out of bed, realize that humans don’t need to hibernate and they don’t.
Our bodies are not designed to slow down season-wise (yes, that means you can’t skip gym even when it seems like the ‘right’ thing to do). Those extra hours of comfortable procrastination in bed can actually cause you harm.
Sleeping for more than eight hours increases inflammation (think acne, swelling, allergic reactions) in your body.1 Sleep disturbance and long sleep duration, but not short sleep duration, are associated with increases in markers of systemic inflammation.
Sorry, but winter’s not an excuse to sleep in (beyond reasonable limits).
3. Eating Too Much Of The Wrong Stuff
Parties, social gatherings, spontaneous club hopping, and all-round celebrations for the sake of celebration don’t make it any easier for you on your fat-fighting quest.
Plum cake, soufflé, apple pie, fig pudding…
Eat well, but eat right.
- Experiment with winter fruits and vegetables, preferably local and organic.
- Chow down on warm, slow cooked foods that are easier for your now lazy body to digest. Ayurveda supports this claim, too.
- Spice up your food with ginger, cinnamon, and star anise to keep sickness at bay.
4. Taking Leave Of Your Drunken Senses
Since the 18th century, brandy barrels have been strapped to St. Bernards to warm up freezing travelers in the Alps.
It’s time to bust the overrated myth that alcohol warms you up.
- Alcohol reduces your core body temperature: Alcohol causes vasodilation (expansion of blood vessels), increasing blood flow to the skin.2 Gushing blood makes your skin feel temporarily warm and may even cause you to sweat (cooling you off…not what you want). In the bargain, blood flows away from your internal organs lowering your core body temperature. So, while you may superficially feel warmer, your body may be in trouble (think sickness).
- Alcohol reduces your ability to shiver: Shivering is the body’s cold coping mechanism and alcohol delays it.34 Delayed or no shivering reduces the core body temperature further and increases risks of hypothermia (subnormal body temperature).
- Alcohol disrupts your immune system: To top it all, excessive alcohol consumption is not only a threat to your liver but to your immune system, too. Alcohol increases our susceptibility to infectious diseases such as pneumonia, septicemia, and even HIV (risky sex practises when intoxicated).5 It does so by increasing the production of antibodies, lowering the number of natural killer cells, altering the function of monocytes, and so on—injuring the soldiers of your body’s defenses. It’s just a lot of imbalance that the immune system cannot cope with.
5. Going Under A Self-imposed House Arrest
Don’t hide indoors. Go out and courageously brave the winter breeze. Why? Because you need to.
- For vitamin D:
Just because you cannot see the sun, doesn’t mean you don’t need it. The sun is our main source of vitamin D. And guess what? An estimated 1 billion people across the globe have a vitamin D deficiency.6
Why is vitamin D so important in winter?
It may help keep the flu away. Research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be the seasonal stimulus that triggers influenza outbreaks common in winter.7
Having said that, UVB rays are scarce in winter. So, sufficient vitamin D may not be produced by the skin (UVB initiates vitamin D production in the skin).8 In which case it is advisable to supplement with the vitamin.
- To shiver a little:
While you do all you can to keep yourself warm, a little shivering may be just what you need to trim your waistline.
This is how it works…
When you exercise, your body secretes a protein called irisin. When you shiver, irisin is secreted, too.9 Irisin then triggers brown fat thermogenesis and burns your stubborn body fat.
Go on. Take a stroll in the cold winter air and flamboyantly (and quite effortlessly) shed those extra pounds.
6. Going Stingy On The Sunscreen
It is but natural not to think of protecting yourself from an enemy that is out of sight (read: harmful sun rays).
A little clarity first.
- UVB are shorter sun rays that are more intense during summer than winter. They can give us a tan but do not penetrate our skin.
- UVA are longer rays that do not wane in intensity during winter. They can penetrate materials like cloth and glass and your skin (piece of cake), going deep enough to cause irreversible and speeding up the aging process (wrinkles and all).
This logically means that you need to keep slapping on that sunscreen each time you decide to step out.
To make it worse, snow reflects UV rays, amplifying the danger we are exposed to.10
- Sweat makes sunscreen less effective. So, depending on how active you are, moderate how often you apply it.
- Invest in a broad spectrum sunscreen that is pocket size so it is not troublesome for you to use.
7. Taking Long Hot Showers
A long hot shower in cold weather is pure blissful indulgence. While it can be supernaturally relaxing, it can also make your hair and skin extremely dry. Instead, use lukewarm water and try to limit your showers to…well, just not too long.
Avoid these common mistakes, and you’re ready to look Winter in its face!
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Michael R. Irwin, Richard Olmstead, Judith E. Carroll. Sleep Disturbance, Sleep Duration, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Experimental Sleep Deprivation. Society of Biological Psychiatry. 2016.|
|2.||↑||Yoda T, Crawshaw LI, Nakamura M, Saito K, Konishi A, Nagashima K, Uchida S, Kanosue K. Effects of alcohol on thermoregulation during mild heat exposure in humans. Alcohol. 2005.|
|3.||↑||Beau J. Freund, Catherine O’brien, Andrew John Young. Alcohol ingestion and temperature regulation during cold exposure. Journal of wilderness medicine. 1994.|
|4.||↑||Granberg PO. Alcohol and cold. Arctic Med Res. 1991.|
|5.||↑||Alcohol and the Immune System. Chapter 4. Medical Consequences. National Institute of Health.|
|6.||↑||Rathish Nair, Arun Maseeh. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012.|
|7.||↑||Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, Kurihara M, Wada Y, Ida H. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010.|
|8.||↑||Webb AR, Kline L, Holick MF. Influence of season and latitude on the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D3: exposure to winter sunlight in Boston and Edmonton will not promote vitamin D3 synthesis in human skin. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1988.|
|9.||↑||Lee, Paul, Joyce D. Linderman, Sheila Smith, Robert J. Brychta, Juan Wang, Christopher Idelson, Rachel M. Perron et al. Irisin and FGF21 are cold-induced endocrine activators of brown fat function in humans. Cell metabolism. 2014.|
|10.||↑||Peter A. Andersen, et. al. Environmental Cues to Ultraviolet Radiation and Personal Sun Protection In Outdoor Winter Recreation. Arch Dermatol. 2010.|