Have you ever wondered why wintertime is flu season? Why do most people stay virus-free all year only to catch a cold over the winter months? There are several contributing factors to this. Over the winter, days are shorter. There are less hours of daylight which makes it harder to spend time outside. For most people, the bulk of those daylight hours are spent getting ready for work, being at work, and commuting home from work. The same scenario is true for our kids who go to school. This results in several things, starting with the fact that less time is spent outside. It’s an unavoidable fact that there is less opportunity to get the appropriate amount of vitamin D producing sunlight on our bare skin. Vitamin D is one of the basic building blocks for overall health. It is quite literally a key to staying healthy. Vitamin D “unlocks doors” in our body that allows critical processes to take place. Vitamin D keeps our bones healthy by allowing calcium to be used by our body. Calcium, along with some other minerals, is stored in our bones, which helps keep our bones strong; but it is Vitamin D that regulates how much is stored there. Too much calcium causes bones to be hard but brittle. Too little calcium causes bones to be weak and porous. Vitamin D allows calcium to be moved in and out of our bones, organs, and cells whenever and wherever it is needed. Vitamin D is produced in our body when sunlight touches our bare, unprotected skin. It is a complicated process, but it is the most natural form of Vitamin D. A lack of this important vitamin has been associated with S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The reason for that is Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating hormones, as well; specifically serotonin. A serotonin imbalance has been associated with many forms of depression, including S.A.D. which occurs most often in the winter months and/or in areas that are cloudy more than sunny. If you suspect that your body may be low in Vitamin D, a Vitamin D3 supplement would be helpful.
Less time spent outside also means more time spent inside. Wintertime air inside buildings becomes dry and stale. With people staying indoors comes the increased risk of spreading colds and flu. Heaters dry the air which causes sinuses to dry out. This causes the body to produce mucus to combat the dryness. The mucus is an excellent breeding ground for viruses and bacteria that are present in the air and on surfaces touched by others who carry it; simple practices can help limit exposure. Be aware of what your hands touch. Common places to come into contact with a virus are door handles, hand rails, and pretty much everything in the break room. Wash your hands often, and keep them off your face. Do not rub your eyes or eat until you have washed your hands. Be considerate of others by covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze. If you are sick, limit your contact with others as much as practical; if possible, stay home and in bed. At home, regular cleaning with a disinfectant is helpful; especially when someone is sick.
Winter marks the time that nature rests. Daylight hours shorten, plants stop growing, and animals that spent the year choosing a mate and raising young now focus on eating and resting. Fall was the time of harvest; when nature made ready that which would sustain the world through winter. Nuts, roots, grains and grasses, and a variety of late growing vegetables strengthen and even fatten the harvesters. Fresh meat keeps well over the winter months, also providing our bodies with nutrients to withstand the cold. It is especially important that we allow ourselves to slow down with nature. Instead of trying to pack more into fewer day lit hours, we need to shift our agenda to focus more on rest, relaxation, and knitting tighter our relationships. It’s interesting but, warming one’s heart also warms one’s body. When you are happy and well rested, your body’s immune system is stronger and more capable of fighting off viruses, bacteria, and disease, often before you even have signs of illness.
Proper nutrition is important year round, but seems especially so during the winter months. When it comes to the world outside, we recognize that nature has cycles. If you stop to think about how plants and animals survive year after year through all the range of temperatures you can begin to see that the seasons each have a purpose and gradually lead from one into another. Carefully orchestrated, nature provides the animals with what they need when they need it. It is no mistake that young are born and raised when food is most abundant and the need for shelter is minimal.
The animals outside don’t think about what they are eating. They eat what nature has provided for them. This is the way life used to be for people before the food industry has become so advanced. With greenhouses, refrigeration, and the ability to ship food long distances, we now have access to food that is out of its natural growing season and geographical area. This allows us to eat the same foods year round. But that is not what nature has intended. True that we are not animals and do not live outside; however, we exist on this earth and depend on nature to provide for our needs of food, air, warmth, and shelter. We are, inescapably, from and a part of this earth. And, in the very least, we are affected by the cycles and seasons of nature because we are in it and it is in us.
Without getting into the science of how certain foods have certain effects on our body, such as fruits are cooling and are perfect for the hot summer and nuts are higher in fat and warming which is perfect for winter, let’s just take a very simple look at the seasons and what grows when. Since most food is obtained through a grocer, it may not be obvious of the natural growing seasons. Some examples of foods harvested in the fall include: apples, oranges, grapefruit, dates, figs, lemons, limes, avocados, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans, zucchini, broccoli, celery, peppers, tomatoes, oats, amaranth, rice, beans, nuts, seeds, meats, and dairy (not frozen). In general, most vegetables are encouraged as long as they are cooked. Many of these are high in Vitamin C and other immune boosters. All meats and nuts are warming to the body. Use wintertime to concentrate on comfort foods such as soups and stews, and dishes well-seasoned with your favorite spices. Avoid greens, sprouts, cabbage, and cucumbers; and reduce lettuces. Limit fruits to the sour tasting ones unless cooked or canned. Avoid added sugar to fruits.
Staying well hydrated is also important, as winter can be very drying for sinuses and skin. Water is best, but take this opportunity to enjoy hot herbal teas. Many are made with herbs that are calming and relaxing, without caffeine to wind you up. Make it part of your evening routine to unwind with a nice hot cup of tea followed by a relaxing soak in the bathtub. Finish by pampering your skin with body oil made from sesame, coconut, almond, or other natural oil that can be found at your local health food store. Oils are better moisturizers than lotion because they allow your skin to retain water from the inside while softening skin from the outside. For men and women alike, this is a wonderful way to treat yourself to some pampering while being good to your body.
With a few extra precautions, and a willingness to tune into nature’s cues to slow down and enjoy the abundance that it provided, you will be healthy and rested, and ready for all that next year brings your way.