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It's Still Winter: 7 Ways to Stay Healthy

Mar 04, 2014 01:00AM ● By Erin Frisch

Winter can be a tough time of year to stay illness-free and full of energy. When the weather outside is frightful, the last thing we want to do is go for a long run while our ears turn from blue to white and our extremities lose feeling. Wouldn’t it be nicer to sit in front of the fire and annihilate the population of leftover Valentine’s Day chocolates? Other energy zappers are the infamous flu and cold viruses that run rampant this time of year when our immunities are as low as the temperature. Sickness will leave you feeling weak and keep you from work, school, and your normal exercise routine.

If you want to sport that bathing suit come April vacation in Florida, here are seven ways to stay energized and looking good, even underneath three sweaters and a parka.

1. Wash Your Hands Vigilantly. Nothing can throw off your daily routine like the common cold or seasonal flu. Most infections are spread by direct contact, and from the office to the gym to the grocery store and home again, there’s more than enough contact. To avoid germs, wash your hands at every opportunity: after you use the bathroom, when you leave your kitchen, when you change for a workout, and even after you shake someone’s hand. You can’t wash them too many times. Hand sanitizer is the next best thing, but nothing beats a lather of soap and hot water. Additionally, be aware that fomites harbor large populations of bacteria and viruses, especially those in public places. Fomites are such inanimate objects as door handles, keyboards, sinks and toilets, and desktops. Prevent the spread of disease by cleaning these areas with Lysol wipes at home and work, and washing your hands after making contact with them in public places.

2. Get the Flu Vaccine. This easy step is a huge leap toward winter health. Even though winter may be waning, the flu is still prevalent. Therefore, Dartmouth Hitchcock will be offering additional end-of-season flu clinics from March 3 through March 7 from 8am to 4:30pm on Levels 1 and 4 of the hospital. Many pharmacies also offer flu vaccines.

3. Drink, Drink, Drink. It’s easy to stay hydrated in the summer months, when even looking outside at the brilliant sun is enough to make you feel parched. But when the days get cold and gloomy, it’s equally easy to forget to sip water. Even when you are not sweating, you still need to drink at least eight glasses of fluid per day (especially water and not soda). If you find it tough to chug cold water when your toes are going numb, try warm liquids. Tea, especially herbal tea, is warm and soothing, and has no calories. Green and black teas also offer phytonutrients that can help boost immunity. Hot apple cider or hot chocolate, both more appealing when March winds blow, will also boost your intake of fluids.

4. Load Up On Veggies. This may seem a hopeless endeavor in the winter months when one is hard pressed to find anything green except a pine tree. But filling up on veggies instead of other, richer foods will limit your caloric intake and boost your immune system. Try to fill two-thirds of your plate with brightly colored foods instead of brown and white ones. Vegetables like Brussels sprouts, squash, asparagus, pumpkin, green beans, kale, Swiss chard, beets, and many others are easy to find even during the winter months. When preparing these heart-healthy dishes, keep them as nutritious as possible by limiting the amount of butter, oil, sour cream, brown sugar, and other tempting additions. Instead, a squirt of fresh lemon or lime juice will spark your taste buds and boost your nutrient gain.

5. Choose the “Other” Sweet. If you simply can’t sleep without satisfying your sweet tooth, try some natural alternatives to rich desserts. Every type of citrus is popping up in the grocery store this time of year. Whether you like navel oranges, grapefruit, clementines, kiwifruit, or pomelos (try them; they’re awesome!), pick your favorite and buy extra for your office, locker, or kitchen. That way, you will always have a healthy snack on hand. Other naturally sweetened foods that provide added vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients include dried fruits like dates, raisins, currants, cranberries, apricots, apple slices, pineapple rings, and figs. Mix them with nuts and a few dark chocolate chips for a satisfying and filling alternative to candy that will keep that sweet tooth happy.

6. Exercise Indoors. Let’s face it. When the temperature takes a dive, our noses and ears are just as capable of freezing as Occom Pond. If the thought of bundling up to go exercise outside makes you shiver, choose a fun indoor activity instead. Attend a yoga class (trust me, you will feel the burn). Hit the gym for some strength training with friends to get ready for your favorite spring and summer sports. How about visiting an indoor climbing wall for a mental and physical workout? Or get a group together to do a DVD exercise program like Zumba or Insanity. Exercising habitually, even in short spurts, will support your immunity and your mood.

7. Try Fun Outdoor Activities. If you think you can brave the elements, opt for a fun activity out in the open whenever the wind stops howling. Try ice-skating on Occom Pond. How about a weekend trip to go skiing or snowshoeing? Be sure to pack lots of warm layers, including thermal underwear. Even sledding can be quite a workout; take your family, including a herd of young kids, and some sleds, and toboggan down the slopes. Climbing back up the hill for your next run is sure to get your heart pumping, especially if you’ve got kids on that sled.

What tips do you have for the best ways to prevent the onset of winter illnesses? Please share them with us.

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