Winter can be a great time of year. There is the excitement of seeing the first snow come down, time spent with family at Christmas, New Year's celebrations, and all of those invigorating winter sports. However, for many of us, winter seems to come as a surprise every year, and we don't take all the steps we should to keep ourselves healthy and fighting fit. It's too easy to cocoon ourselves away in front of a roaring fire and let ourselves go just that little bit. However, if you take the right steps to keep yourself in good shape, you will enjoy the winter even more.
Avoid exposure to coughs and colds
One of the unfortunate things about winter is that it is cold and flu season. There is nothing that can put more of a dent into winter activities than a heavy bout of the sniffles or running a fever for days on end.
While you can't prevent winter illnesses entirely, you can reduce your chances of being exposed to them. This isn't always easy – for example, while wearing a face mask in public places is highly effective, you may well find this too embarrassing. You can, however, significantly reduce your chances of picking up something simply by avoiding touching your face when you are out. People sneeze when they have colds, leaving nasty viruses all over surfaces such as door handles. If you touch these and then touch your face, you are more likely to get sick. If you do need to touch your face, consider carrying a good hand sanitizer with a high alcohol content, and use it after you touch anything or after you have been to the bathroom. Also, do other people a favor and use a tissue to catch your own sneezes if you come down with a cold.
Keep your immune system strong
You can also make it less likely that you will catch nasty bugs if you keep your immune system strong. There are lots of supplements that can help you to do this, but an easy way is to make sure you get plenty of dairy products. Things like cheese, milk and yoghurt have lots of protein, as well as vitamins A and B12, which can help to boost your immune system.
On the other hand, try to avoid any foods that are high in fat and sugar, since these can have a negative effect. For example, even if you drink as little as two cans of regular soda, this can stop your white blood cells from attacking and destroying bacteria, and the effect can last for many hours.
Also, try to avoid too much stress. In the short term, stress may actually boost your immune system, but chronic stress makes you produce large amounts of two hormones called cortisol and adrenaline, and many studies have shown that these suppress the immune response.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
When it's dark and cold outside, it's so tempting to fill up on comfort foods. We all know how we seem to put on those pounds in the winter, and a lot of that is due to the changes in our diet. However, if you don't eat plenty of fruits and vegetables during the winter, your health is going to suffer. If you want something comforting and warm, consider using winter root vegetables such as carrots and turnips to make a thick, hearty soup.
Since many vegetables need to be imported in the winter, you may see the price of these go up. While this is inevitable, it means that there isn't so much of a price difference between common fruit and vegetables and some of the more exotic ones. So, why not use wintertime to explore varieties of fruits and vegetables that you have never tried before? This can be a real incentive to keep on eating healthily.
You may also find yourself craving for that sugar hit in the winter. That's fine, but as we've already discussed, too much sugar can have a damaging effect on your immune system. If you do find yourself reaching for something sweet, choose a juicy orange or sweet dried fruit instead – such as raisins or dates. You'll end up consuming far less sugar than you would otherwise, and eating the fruit will have positive health effects.
It's a common myth that getting cold will give you a cold – how many times did your mother tell you to put on a hat or you would get sick? In fact, the only reason that we get a cold is because we catch a cold virus – so if you aren't exposed, you won't get sick. However, research has shown that getting chilled suppresses our immune systems – so if you don't stay warm and are then exposed to nasty viruses and bacteria, you are more likely to catch them.
Of course, not staying warm also has other negative health effects. One of the most obvious of these is that it increases your chance of getting frostbite. However, the cold also raises your blood pressure, so if you have any sort of heart condition, you need to avoid this. In fact, most of the increase in deaths in the winter is due to heart problems brought on by the cold.
Try to wear warm, layered clothing that traps air, since this provides excellent insulation. If you live somewhere particularly cold, consider getting a heavy, down-filled winter coat. Leg warmers can also be a great idea, since these protect your exposed legs. Round that off with a nice woolly hat to keep your head warm, and a sturdy pair of winter boots, and you'll stay toasty warm.
Get plenty of exercise
Of course, getting plenty of exercise during the winter is as important as any other time of year. There are so many winter sports to choose from, including skiing, skating and even sledding. However, if you're not into winter sports, staying in shape can be a real challenge. Consider joining a gym, or buy a treadmill and exercise bike. However, whatever sports or exercise you do, remember that your body is colder in the winter. Therefore, it's particularly important to do proper warm-up exercises before you start, otherwise you risk pulling a muscle.