How to Stay Healthy, Happy & Fit This Winter

Winterize your skin, avoid cold and flu season, defeat seasonal depression and more!

It’s almost heee-eere: Winter. If you’re anxiously anticipating cold dark days, nasty bugs, dry skin and the packing on of the dreaded holiday pounds, take heart (and a spoonful of cod liver oil). We brought together seven holistic practitioners to pick their brains on everything from fighting colds to battling the winter blues. So this season, when the guy in the adjacent cubical sneezes, instead of cringing, rest assured that you’ll be fine … and hand him this article.

Silky Skin ’Til Spring Rolls In

The lethal combo of cold, wind and rain — not to mention the pumped-in heat and multiple layers of clothes in which I swaddle myself — leaves me with a winter skin situation that’s decidedly more lizard than lady. Help!

John Ruhland, Naturopathic Physician, Seattle

For dry skin, I like the fat-soluble vitamins, Vitamins A (or beta carotene), D and E, although too much Vitamin A can cause dry skin as well. Vitamin E may provide the added benefit of reducing the tendency toward wrinkled skin. If you tolerate fish, add fish (with minimal mercury content) to your diet two or three times a week. Or alternate taking a cod liver oil supplement with another oil supplement. The three I usually recommend are evening primrose seed oil, borage seed oil and black currant seed oil. Taking oral supplements gets the oil into the cells where it is needed.

Light (Jyoti) Miller, Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Physician, LA

The most important thing to do is abyangha (self-massage). Pure organic essential oils smell good, but they are strong, so make a solution with 10 to 15 drops of essential oils for every ounce of vegetable oil. Use a skin brush to exfoliate and then apply the oil. My book, Ayurvedic Remedies for the Whole Family, has a chapter on abyangha. This therapy will protect and nourish the skin and insulate the body during the winter season. It also protects our aura and prevents drying, flakiness, cracking and wrinkling of the skin.

Kim Sullivan, Acupuncturist, Chicago

Our bodies get out of balance with change: seasonal changes, dietary changes and emotional stress. Using acupuncture in combination with herbal therapy can balance the yin and yang of the body. The [storage of] moisture and fluids in the body is yin, so when the yin is impaired there’s an imbalance. Also, in Chinese Medicine the lung is the organ that governs the skin, so when the lung gets taxed during the winter season, your immunity decreases and your skin gets out of whack. Acupuncture strengthens the lung.

James Bailey, Ayurvedic Practitioner, LA

Early winter is a classic vata season — a disrupting season. In Ayurvedic medicine, there are three primary doshas (forces), and vata is air and space, which lacks water. Apply oils internally and externally to the body. Use clean organic cooking oils in your diet. The appropriate oils depend on the individual, but most people respond well to olive and sesame oil. They will reinforce the natural fatty acid content in the body. Try a self-massage on the surface of your body by applying a thin layer of sesame or coconut oil before a shower. 

Give Winter Blahs The Boot


As the too-short days and loooooong cold nights roll by, I find myself forgetting that there was ever a time I sat outside … in the sunshine ... in a t-shirt … feeling happy. How do I battle the winter blues?

Djehuty Ma’at-Ra, Herbalist

For happy hormones, burn essential oils. Pine is an uplifting scent. So is orange and cloves. Read positive material. And listen to music that lifts your spirits. New age music works for me. Enya, Deva Premal, Steven Halpern, and Snatam Kaur.

Kim Sullivan, Acupuncturist

I see a lot of people for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in my practice. Acupuncture is beneficial to improve mood and increase energy. The key is to start treatments early — come once a week beginning in the fall. Acupuncture stimulates endorphins, which give us happy feelings. One reason we suffer from SAD is that the pineal glands respond to light. When light is low, the pineal glands secrete less serotonin, so you get drowsy in the winter. Acupuncture helps regulate that.

Jenefer Huntoon, Naturopathic Physician

If a person can structure his or her life to take a vacation in the winter months and stay home in the summers, that makes sense. If not, a lot of people buy full spectrum light baths. You can even buy full spectrum light bulbs and put them in lamps where you sit and read or where you spend a lot of time. And you can buy full spectrum fluorescent tubes. Some people get permission to put them in their office — they pay for the bulbs themselves. Or they bring in their own lamp. If you can, sit close to a window to be exposed to daylight.

Body In Balance

Holiday spirit? Oh, you mean the demon that possesses me from Halloween to Valentine’s Day, conducting sadistic sugary, boozy, carbohydrate bomb experiments on my waistline before collapsing in a feverish bout of self-loathing and impending bikini anxiety? Nope, never heard of it.

Light (Jyoti) Miller, Ayurvedic & Naturopathic Physician

Because we are indoors so much in the winter we tend to be less active. Root vegetables are winter foods, but some can cause weight gain. Try celeric (a kind of celery grown as a root vegetable). Squashes are good for the prevention of cancer and help with hypertension. Chayote is good — you can get it at Spanish and Indian markets. As far as grains, try not to eat too much rice. Instead, eat low-carb grains. Quinoa is a high protein grain rich in iron, B6 and amino acids. Barley helps flush excess water out of the system. It can be used in cereal. Millet helps balance blood sugar levels. Also, eat seaweeds in soups like miso. Seaweeds are high in trace minerals such as calcium and magnesium. If you’re trying to lose weight, soak them to eliminate salt content.

Amanda Brimhall, Naturopathic Physician

A little weight gain in the winter is natural. Don’t panic too much about a few pounds. It’s important to stay active. That might mean finding someone to hold you accountable — hire a personal trainer or join a class at your gym so you have something on a regular schedule. Also, watch the comfort foods. It’s so easy to come home when you’re cold and hungry and just hunker down with a pizza. Plan meals and go grocery shopping ahead of time. Make a big pot of lentil soup and freeze some for later in the week.

James Bailey, Ayurvedic Practitioner

People get too complicated with weight loss. Keep it simple. Eat modestly. By age 30, our metabolism starts slowing down and we have to be mindful of how we feed our bodies. We eat because of stress and as a form of entertainment. But as adults, food should be minimal. Our culture is not struggling with famine, but with obesity. We have cheap foods full of sugars. Winter is not a time for sweet taste. In ancient times, sugar came in fruits during certain seasons. There were no sweet things to eat in the winter. An Ayurvedic diet can really help with weight maintenance or loss, especially in the winter.

John Ruhland, Naturopathic Physician

Continue exercising. I promote bicycling — even in drizzly weather — because it’s a low impact sport. If you have balance issues, stay on a bike path and try a three-wheel bike. Swimming is another option, but stick to twice a week if you’re swimming in a chlorinated pool to limit exposure to chlorine. Or find a pool using an ozonation and UV light sterilization system instead of chlorine. If you’re overweight and a brisk walk gets your heart rate up, then walking will help. Vitamin D may be of help if the weight gain results from seasonal mood changes.

Right Back Achoo!

Oh geez — everyone is hacking. I am about one stranger’s sneeze away from taking a cue from Bubble Boy.

Jenefer Huntoon, Naturopathic Physician

I don’t know that we can avoid colds 100 percent of the time. We can’t realistically live in a bubble, and being exposed helps our immune system. Colds are one of the ways the body eliminates toxins. People who take good care of themselves and have good immune systems will get colds, but recover quickly. For vitamin A and D, take one tablespoon of cod liver oil (you can now get lemon flavor) for every 50 pounds of body weight per day. Eat half a grapefruit or half an orange a day for vitamin C. If you actually get sick, drink herbal tea. Half peppermint with half catnip will induce perspiration. Then get in bed and use lots of blankets to help you perspire away the cold. It’s the same idea as going to the sauna. It helps you clean out your system and recover more quickly.

Amanda Brimhall, Naturopathic Physician

To avoid cold and flu season, keep your stress low, take a good multi-vitamin, get enough exercise and enough sleep. Socializing is important too. Another thing that really helps is the Neti pot — it can prevent congestion and head colds. If you already feel the symptoms coming on, put yourself on immune boosting herbs. There are many: Echinacea, golden seal, elderberry, medicinal mushrooms and zinc lozenges.

Kim Sullivan, Acupuncturist

Drink lots of teas. Fresh ginger is wonderful — put six slices of raw ginger root in a pot and boil it for a long time so the properties are released. Drink astragalus tea on a regular basis throughout the winter for a big boost. Fresh garlic is one of the best medicines in the world. If your stomach can handle it — and your husband/wife or family can handle it — eat a fresh clove every day. At least eat a clove a day at the first sign you’re getting sick. Make a soup. There is no exact science for the recipe, but combine chicken or vegetable broth with fresh chopped garlic, sliced ginger root, green onion, lemon juice and some Cayenne pepper. You can drink it as a broth or throw in additional greens and chicken.

 

Related Articles: 

Warming Winter Soup Recipes

10 Tips for Winter Wellness

How to Survive the Winter Produce Season

Feeling SAD? A Doctor's Top 4 Remedies for Winter Blues

 

Winter Wellness Solutions:

Ceramic Neti Pot and Accessories

HappyLight Liberty Energy Lamp Kit

Pureguardian Ultrasonic Humidifier

Rise & Shine Light Alarm


Jenny Rough is a writer and blogger. Find her on the web at jennyrough.com.

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