Seven Ways to Stay Healthy This Winter

By: Michele Wolfson

I thought after having some time off during the holidays to take it easy would leave me feeling well rested, but it seems that I'm still exhausted. I managed to avoid going to the mall all together this year, but I guess the cooking, the traveling, and the late-nights up laughing were enough to wear me down.

Even though the holiday season is over, the winter has just begun. The temperatures have been cold this January and the lack of sunshine that occurs this month has a considerable affect on our mood levels.  Here is a list of seven ways to stay healthy physically and mentally this winter season. I hope these tips will motivate both you and I to get back to our normal routine and these small actions will keep your happy during the cold months to come!

1. Exercise: Low temperatures make it rather hard to pull yourself out from underneath a pile of blankets. But during the cold weather, nudge yourself to get moving because exercise helps your mood and immune system. Not a fan of outdoor activities? Keep an eye out for gyms offering free trials or classes; hit the mall and walk laps; or simply add a few at-home exercises like squats, lunges, and wall push-ups to your daily routine. If you can, avoid the elevator and take the stairs.

2. Wash your hands and your produce: Especially to those New Yorkers who take the subway, wash your hands! Good hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses, from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea.

Some may think that washing their produce is an unnecessary extra step in the process of consuming fruits and veggies, but in reality, it is crucial to give your produce a good wash. The main reason for this is to get rid of pesticides. Pesticides are known to be toxic and since their side effects aren't fully clear, it is a good idea to avoid eating them.

It has been argued that organic vegetables and fruits do not need to be washed, but what about protection from everyone who is handling them? Not everyone is washing their hands and it is not uncommon that, for instance, produce falls out of a truck in NYC onto the street, rolls down the pavement into a puddle and then is picked up and put right back into the barrel (yep, seen it happen more than once). Gross!

You should even wash produce that you are going to peel. Scrub firm produce with skin, like cucumbers and potatoes, with a stiff-bristled brush. Experts say to "assume that the outside layer of any fruit or vegetable will have absorbed most of the pesticides (though some will have also have been absorbed from the soil), and wash/peel or discard these outer layers whenever you can." One way to minimize your exposure to toxic pesticides is to buy organic produce as often as possible, especially with fruits and veggies that you and your family eat the most.

What is the best way to wash your produce? That would be to use vinegar, and use one part vinegar to three parts water. This is great for removing bacteria, and may help break down wax as well.

3. Eat one dark green vegetable a day: Dark green veggies contain minerals like iron and vitamins like A, C, K, and folate that your body needs to stay healthy. Instead of sticking with spinach, try something different like sauteed dandelion greens or mustard greens added to a stir-fry, or kale or Swiss chard added to a favorite stew or soup recipe.

4. Catch up with a friend: Instead of embarking on a Netflix marathon, whether it is Mad Men or Breaking Bad, call a dear friend. During a snowstorm when you are housebound is a good time to catch up with someone that you haven't talked to in a while. Hearing a sweet friend's voice can boost your mood and socializing helps you feel connected to the people who matter most to you.

5. Take Ten: To flight feeling overwhelmed and rundown during the winter season take ten minutes to shut your eyes. Use the time to pray. Also use the time to clear your mind of your to-do list (it can wait) and, instead, focus solely on your breathing. Try picturing yourself on a sunny beach; listen to the waves crash upon shore. Even though it's not an actual vacation or a real respite from the freezing temps, visualization exercises can be very effective in promoting relaxation and boosting your mood. Take the time to be grateful for all things in your life, good and bad.

6. Watch TV outside the box: When the brutal cold weather is upon us, your favorite pastime may be curling up with a blanket and watching television. Here are two twists to add to this wintertime habit:

  1. Hide the remote so you're forced to get up to change channels or adjust the volume.
  2. You can also challenge yourself by doing jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Little bursts of movement during your down time will ensure you're getting much-needed activity during the hibernation months.

7. Disinfect the armrests and trays on a plane when traveling: In an article written by Irene S. Levine, PhD about ways to avoid getting sick on a plane, Robert Wolfson, MD, an internist with the Mount Kisco Medical Group in Westchester County, New York says, "Most infections transmitted on planes are airborne, and there is not much you can do once inside the plane other than only exhale for the entire ride."

"Passengers (or flight attendants) with colds, sinus infections, or bronchitis do not generally cancel their flight either because they don't feel they are sick enough or feel they are obligated to go through with their trip, not to mention the uncertainty of getting a refund. So the air in the cabin is like a Petri dish, and I frequently do treat respiratory infections in recent travelers," he says.

Therefore, disinfecting wipes should become your best friend on a plane! Pack a tub of disinfecting wipes and wipe down everything including the armrests, the remote device (which is tricky because you need to get into all the little crevices), the tray, and the fastener that holds the tray in place. Bring some to the toilet with you- hold a wipe in your hand as you open the door, wipe down and cover the toilet seat, use a wipe when you flush and use the water faucet, and use a wipe to open the lock to exit. It might sound extreme, but planes are germy and it is worth taking all precautions!

Photo:  ghindo

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