By. Dr. Alexis Blanks, Naturopathic Doctor
Fall and winter challenge our mood, our energy and, it’s cold and flu season. Here is a winter health checklist of 5 actions you can take to ensure the fall/winter of 2019 is your healthiest yet.
1. Embrace the rain! “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”.
Research shows how important getting outside and into nature is for our health. Studies show our stress levels, our mood, and even the healthy bacteria in our bodies are all positively impacted by interacting with nature. I’ve written about this in more detail here. Here in Victoria, we experience a lot of grey days and rain. If we let that stop us from getting outdoors we’d be inside from November to April! Dress for the weather; warm clothes, layers, a waterproof coat, rain pants and rain boots – suddenly being out side in the weather will seem much more enjoyable!
2. The “sunshine vitamin”.
Fall and winter offer little sun where we live and it’s extra important to supplement with a little Vitamin D. Important fact: Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin at all. It’s a hormone produced when the suns rays interact with our skin (then it’s stored in our bodies). We may also get some Vitamin D from foods but not enough to be our sole source. Deficiency of this chemical has been linked to many health concerns such as osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer and many more. Low Vitamin D status may also predispose us to more colds and flu. Taking Vitamin D as a supplement, especially in the winter months makes good sense.
Even better – ask your naturopathic doctor to test your Vitamin D with a simple blood test. I have tested many Vitamin D levels and I have found that more often than not, people are deficient or on the low end of normal even when we test at the end of summer (when levels should be highest). I have often seen low levels even when people are taking Vitamin D supplements – but everyone is different so testing to know how much you need makes sense.
That period of time between Halloween and New Years is often packed with sugary treats. Excess sugar causes poor moods and weakens our immune systems, both of which can be already challenged in the dark winter months. Christmas baking, treats in the office, at parties, in stores…fire up a mindful eating plan to navigate through without acquiring a sugar addiction.
My strategy for this time of year includes thinking before I say yes to treats offered (do I really want this? how much will I enjoy it?), and also eating right before attending parties so that I’m not ravenous. One of my tricks is to bring salads to potlucks so I know there will be veggies. At home, if I make treats, I try for healthier versions. For example, there is a wonderful online recipe blog called “Nourishing Meals” and for years my kids and I have been making – and loving – their “gingerbread cutout cookie” recipe. The recipe calls for hazelnut flour, I buy mine at Lifestyle Markets in Victoria.
We live in a busy world that is obsessed with productivity and momentum but our bodies and minds also require rest to regenerate and heal. December 21 marks the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year. The shorter days are a good time to slow down and rest. Consider a little time for hibernation and down time this winter. Sleep longer, nap, make art, make time for loved ones.
5. Immune Plan.
The above is a great start for a healthier immune system this winter. The natural medicine world has so much more to offer for both prevention and treatment of colds and flu. If you feel you could use a boost to help you stay well this year, consider seeing a naturopathic doctor for a more personalized plan. This might include more specific diet and lifestyle suggestions, herbal medicine and nutrients to help support or fight infections.
Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor and co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic at Moss Healthcare in Victoria, BC. She would be happy to see you in her office to help you better understand your health and take it to the next level.