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December has the least amount of daily sunlight. January is the coldest month of the year. February – while shorter than other months – is often the culmination of a sad, cold winter. But there are plenty of ways that you can boost your overall wellness through exercise and nutrition that work with the season instead of against it.
There are three primary ways of promoting better health: nutrition, exercise, and spiritual wellness. We’re going to provide you with our top tips for keeping your mind, body, and spirit healthy during what has been an especially challenging winter season.
Top 11 Foods for Winter Nutrition
A study conducted by the University of Georgia as far back as the early 1990s found that our bodies seem to “gear up” for winter, specifically during late summer/early autumn, when everything is turning from warm to cool. These changes have to do with a variety of factors, including our response to less natural light during the colder months. Despite our electrified world, we seem to know on a subconscious level that there is less of it outside during this time of the year, and our bodies respond accordingly.
Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine says that most individuals can handle salty, sweet, and sour foods better in colder weather because digestion is said to be stronger during the colder times of the year. It also recommends eating warming foods in winter, which, of course, makes sense practically as well. Foods that are gently warm, not piping hot, are always better according to this tradition.
Here are our top 10 foods for winter nutrition.
1 | Steamed Vegetables
Steamed vegetables, as opposed to the raw ones often eaten during summer, are great for cool weather. Great types of veggies to serve this time of year include squash, mushrooms, sautéed or cooked spinach, corn, chilies, carrots, radishes, mustard greens, turnips, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, leeks, and onions.
2 | Light Grains
The months where winter goes deep – December through mid-February in most of the continental U.S. – is also the time when the body does better with lighter fare, according to Ayurveda. This is a great time for porridge made of millet, light buckwheat breads and pancakes, corn in chowders, and brown rice dishes. Sprouted breads are also preferable in winter.
3 | Bone Broth
Experts suggest sipping on bone broth every day for strengthening the gut, helping immunity, and a multitude of other reasons. That being said, we all know that in the heat of the summer, it can be difficult to eat hot broth, let alone have it simmering in your house for 24 hours. In the heart of winter, however, a steaming pot of broth may be the perfect accompaniment to a warm hearth and a snowy day. I suggest keeping a pot going as much as possible. Sip some broth regularly to boost immunity and keep that digestion even stronger during the chilly months.
Here’s a Delicious Bone Broth Recipe from Charlene’s Kitchen!
4 | Healthy Soups and Stews
Now that you have a pretty comprehensive list of all the ingredients you will need, why not try your hand at making a yummy and hearty soup or stew that is 100% Ayurvedic approved? Be creative, get into the spirit of the season, and feel free to serve your soup with some bread or biscuits made from the grains list.
5 | Spicy, Warm Drinks
Ginger tea, cinnamon tea, or chai are perfect this time of year. The soothing sweetness of hot apple cider, a typical holiday drink, is great as well as long as you “spice it up” with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other warming flavors. Apples are usually a “cooling” fruit reserved for the warm months, but the wintery spices can help to neutralize this tendency. Other spices to add to your drinks and in your meals include cardamom and turmeric.
6 | Eggs
During winter, digestion is said to be at its strongest. This means the body can handle and may even be craving more protein. Organic, hormone-free eggs, if you are not sensitive to them, can be a great source of protein as well as healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals during times when you may be burning calories out in the cold.
7 | Meats
If you are not a vegetarian or vegan, then in the cooling months of fall and the downright cold months of winter is when you want to eat your share of meat. This includes antibiotic and hormone-free chicken, organic, grass-fed beef and lamb, and clean sources of fish and shrimp.
Check out our tips for carcinogen-free grilling here.
8 | Dairy
Again, because digestion is said to be strongest in the winter, don’t be afraid of putting a little plain yogurt, sour cream, organic cheeses, kefir, or organic butter on your plate. If you are lactose intolerant, give goat cheeses, sheep cheeses, or coconut meat products a try. And be sure to check out this article to learn more about the importance of fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir.
9 | Seasonal Fruits
In Ayurveda, it is always best to eat what is in season and grows naturally in your area. That being said, in regions where it snows a lot or is especially frigid, this may be a tall order. In that case, choose from a list of typical fruits that grow during the colder months from around the world. These would include apricots, cherries, apples, peaches, plums, lemons, grapefruit, pineapple, papaya, cranberries, green grapes, and oranges.
Check out my list of the top 5 cancer-fighting fruits here.
10 | Legumes
The members of the legume family number in the thousands and include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. They are some of the least expensive and most nutritious foods on the planet; wonderfully plentiful, easy to prepare, and full of protein, fiber, and nutrients. They’re an excellent choice for those following a meatless diet, but the benefits of legumes extend to your entire body.
Try out different varieties such as kidney beans, lentils, and navy beans. Non-GMO miso soup is also a favorite in winter, as is non-GMO tempeh. To learn how legumes help fight cancer, check out my comprehensive article (+ tips to avoid gas!) on legumes and cancer.
11 | Olives
Olives are very high in vitamin E and other powerful antioxidants. Studies show that they are good for the heart and protect against osteoporosis and cancer. The healthy fats in olives are extracted to produce olive oil, one of the key components of the incredibly healthy Mediterranean diet.
Always go for organic, extra virgin olive oil if you can. Experiment with all the various types of olives out there. They make a great, easy-to-prepare offering for holiday potlucks and can also be balancing in areas that are especially dry in winter.
Top 7 Winter Fitness Activities
Back in 2018, I published an article about healthy aging in which we discussed the importance of cellular health as the body goes through the natural changes associated with age, and we’ve talked at length about the benefits of exercise. We know that it can keep you healthy, but did you know that exercise can also keep you young?
A 2018 article by NPR highlighted research that says those who have been exercising regularly for decades can be as healthy as those who are much younger. In fact, the study found that septuagenarians (people in their 70s) who had been exercising regularly had muscle health that was indistinguishable from the muscles of people in their 20s!
On the other hand, researchers have found that a lack of exercise can be worse than smoking for your overall health. It’s probably not news that fitness and an active lifestyle can lead to a healthy life, but the study shows that a sedentary lifestyle is as dangerous as many major diseases.
“People who do not perform very well on a treadmill test have almost double the risk of people with kidney failure [who are] on dialysis,” says cardiologist Dr. Wael Jaber. “If you compare the risk of sitting versus the highest performing on the exercise test, the risk is about three times higher than smoking.”
Let’s take a look at 7 fitness activities that are perfect for the winter season.
1 | Resistance Bands
One fitness trend that is effective, easy to master, suitable for many different fitness levels, and only calls for a very inexpensive piece of equipment is resistance training with bands. In fact, research has found that programs utilizing resistance bands increase muscle strength and size, and decrease body fat in a very similar way to free-weight training programs.
Resistance training helps you to improve both your strength and endurance simply using your own body weight and inexpensive resistance bands.
2 | Rebounding
Roughly 10 million Americans suffer from lymphedema and other lymphatic diseases, according to the Lymphatic Education and Research Network. Many of these are older Americans who have gone through treatment for breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer. For these individuals and many others, rebounding (bouncing on a small trampoline) can really help!
The only way that lymph fluid can circulate through the body is with movement. Exercise, especially rebounding, encourages the muscular contractions which move lymph fluid throughout the system. Rebounding can be done for strength training or as a great aerobic workout. It can get your heart pumping, help with balance, and tone & strengthen muscles.
3 | Sledding
Head to your local sledding hill (provided there’s snow) for a fun, aerobic workout. Sledding requires you to use multiple muscle groups to steer as you speed down hills. You also exert effort while walking with your sled back up the hill so you can go down again.
In fact, walking uphill is where you get the most benefit — climbing hills is an aerobic exercise that’s also great for your leg muscles. How many calories you burn with this family fitness activity depends on how many back-and-forth trips you make and the steepness of the hill, but if you keep at it on a medium-height hill for just 30 minutes, you can burn about 240 calories.
4 | Rowing
While the idea of rowing an actual boat in freezing temperatures may not sound like a good time, rowing machines have been shown to squeeze aerobic and resistance training into one efficient workout, according to a 2013 study.
Each stroke combines a leg press, a deadlift, and a row (how’s that for a full-body workout?). And though you’re stationary, since all the muscles are working at once, your heart rate shoots up just as fast.
5 | Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is another winter fitness activity that offers a total-body workout plus great fun for family fitness. Snowshoeing will strengthen your leg muscles while getting your heart pumping and oxygen going to your lungs.
6 | Spinning
For most of us, biking in the winter is just the worst. The wind and low temperatures combined with slick, wet roads just don’t seem worth the effort. But stationary bikes and spin classes can provide you with all the benefits of cycling from the comfort of your home or gym!
One study showed that these intense indoor cycling classes burn calories, help lower blood pressure, trim fat, and strengthen bones. Interval-based rides also strengthen your butt, thighs, calves, and even the core. No helmet necessary.
7 | Stretching
Whether you choose to utilize yoga poses, tai chi, Pilates, or another program, stretching is an important way to stay limber and keep lymphatic fluid moving throughout your body. Stretching not only keeps muscles and joints flexible, but it can also lower inflammation and “fight or flight” responses that can lead to chronic disease.
A 2009 study of women with breast cancer found that those who underwent a 75-minute restorative yoga class for 10 weeks had fewer instances of depression than those who did not. Stay motivated and detox from stress by doing a few stretches throughout the day.
Be sure to utilize your fireplace or thermostat to provide a nice, warm environment to help loosen your muscles and encourage sweating (an excellent way to detox)!
Healing your emotional wounds involves healing not only those wounds that we are consciously aware of but also the wounds that have been imprinted deep into your subconscious brain. Emotional wounds that go unhealed are very likely connected to the development of cancer because every stress, whether we are aware of it or not, eventually manifests somewhere in the body.
Energy medicine – a word coined in the ‘80s – is defined as any form of deliberate energetic or informational interaction with a biological system with the aim of restoring it to homeostasis. It is one of five complementary medicine domains defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
And while energy healing and emotional healing are an important part of a healthy lifestyle, perhaps nothing is more important than spiritual healing.
In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Our God is a God of peace. Our souls are meant to be in line with His will, and when we aren’t walking with Him, our spiritual, emotional, and even physical health can suffer. 3 John 1:2 says, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.”
And that is SO TRUE.
When we walk in the light of Christ, we benefit from His peace. If our souls are not in good health, our bodies may not be either. This doesn’t mean that we need to be perfect – none of us are – but it does mean that we should find time for prayer and meditation on a regular basis.
Life is all about balance, and if we aren’t in balance with the Creator, everything else will be unbalanced.