By Steven Hutchings
Bears hibernate. Squirrels tuck nuts away in summer and live off their acorns in the cold days of winter. And humans? We tend to crank up our heaters and overdose on Häagen-Dazs.
Ok, so we all have our winter rituals. Personally, I tend to go overboard on peanut butter cookies and take long, hot showers. And it feels good. But it does little good for my skin, or my waist line.
Winter’s almost upon us, folks, and with it, the health challenges that creep up with the coldest of seasons. If you live in the sun belt, you’re probably slathering on sun screen. But for those of us with a lack of palm trees in our front yards, it’s time to bone up on winter health, natural remedies, and general habits to survive and thrive when the mercury dips.
General Health Tips For Winter
Winter is a time of joy and happiness. It’s also a time of weight gain, dry skin, stress and really annoying family members just begging for a slap. Ah winter, and its joys and tribulations.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go out like that. Let’s review some general health tips to get you through the coldest of seasons.
An interesting way to start an article on winter health, I admit. But creamy, smooth yogurt is full of digestion-friendly probiotics, ie, the beneficial bacteria that promote healthy digestion. Among other things, yogurt may prevent osteoporosis, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation of the gastrointestinal system.
Add yogurt to your diet this winter. But be aware that not all yogurts are created equal – many are sugar-laden and will spike your blood sugar (and calorie count) if you’re not careful. Opt for fat-free yogurts when possible and look for the words “live active cultures”, which indicates those happy little probiotics are waiting inside.
Organic is one thing. Local is another. They’re both good, but consider that the less time produce spends getting from the farm to your table, the more nutrients it retains. Local food offers maximum health benefits.
Look for a community supported agriculture (CSA) group to establish a relationship with local farmers and get the goods on the best produce, eggs, milk and dairy. Much of that produce will be organic, by the way. Joining a CSA is a great way to eat local and pesticide-free. Can’t find a CSA? Check out www.localharvest.org for a group in your area.
Watch Your Eating Patterns
What’s that about the most common New Year’s resolution being to lose weight? Fitness clubs see a spike in memberships come January which, considering that the holidays don’t exactly lend themselves to small portions and healthy eating, needs no explanation.
The abundance of food, and the urge to stay warm and consume it, doesn’t help your digestion either. IBS and acid reflux are inextricably linked to the oft sugar-based, fatty foods we consume in winter. Pumpkin pie bathed in whipped cream, anyone?
If you’re prone to digestion problems, it’s time to watch your intake of trigger foods. Yes, it’s difficult, but opt for healthier foods, like fruits and vegetables. There’s a whole world of produce out there, much of which you’ve probably never tried. Not all will trigger your digestion problems. And they’re much, much healthier that those fat-based holiday treats.
Consider that the less time produce spends getting from the farm to your table, the more nutrients it retains.
By the way, watch your portion sizes. That can be hard with the generous portions doled out in the holiday season, but try, because large meals can trigger reflux symptoms, especially heartburn, to say nothing about the extra pounds that creep up when you go overboard with the eating. Nibble your food, and you’re less likely to go back for round two. And three, and four and…
One more thing about eating in winter. Resist the urge to lie down after eating, which can trigger reflux. Keep your head elevated. Better yet, move around after eating, with light stretching and exercise, to minimize heartburn and keep it away.
If you’re gonna pack on the pounds, you’ll do it in winter. That’s bad news for your belly and your health insurance premiums. And it doesn’t help society. Estimates suggest that 30% of the United States is obese. Forget looking good in a bathing suit, now we’re just trying to prevent diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease.
Do yourself a favor this winter – move around. If need be, start small, with ab crunches while the family is watching TV. Walk, don’t drive, to the mall or your favorite restaurant with the kids. Is the neighborhood covered in snow? I can’t think of a better excuse to grab your toboggan and find a hill. Or if you’re really keen, hit the ski slope.
Tune In to the Universe, Man
The holidays can be stressful. Speaking from experience, I need as much time to myself as I do with family. And among the top ways to alleviate stress? Meditation, which research links to lower blood pressure, boosted immune system and reduced symptoms of PMS.
I’m not suggesting you run off to a monastery and cut all ties to the world (though the thought may invariably cross your mind when the in-laws visit). But it’s important to remove yourself from the stresses of winter – and there are plenty – and seclude yourself to a quiet place where you can take a deep breath, repeat a key word or phrase, and just chill.
In the depths of winter, with family and financial commitments tugging away for your time and attention, that may very well be the difference between happy holidays and going nuts.
For the full treatment on winter health, check out Web MD’s informative article at http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/8-winter-tips-healthy-living
Tummy trouble hits year-round. But if you’re prone to IBS or acid reflux, you’re really gonna feel it in the sugar-filled, fatty food abundant days of winter. And it might be easy on the lips, but it’s less-than-pleasing to your insides if digestion problems play a prominent, if not unwelcome role in your routine.
Fortunately, nature heals. And the herbals and natural supplements outlined in this article can treat a variety of digestive ailments, soothe your tummy and make the holidays feel a whole lot better.
You’ll notice that yogurt and the probiotics within it are at the top of that list, and with good reason. Probiotics establish balance in your gut, between good and bad bacteria. And new research suggests that probiotics may eliminate the harmful bacteria that can build up and lead to colorectal cancer. Believe me, that’s a place you don’t want to visit.
But that’s for another article. Right now, let’s focus on irritable bowel syndrome, and how to keep that monster down when it’s most likely to flare up.
About IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a collection of unpleasant symptoms, including abdominal pain, gas, constipation and diarrhea. Several estimates suggest that 15% of Americans suffer from IBS. And all that bubble gut adds up: the average IBS patients loses 34% in productivity and forks over $4,500 each year in out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Why it Hits in Winter: IBS hits year-round. But when it’s cold outside, you’re more likely to head indoors for warmth and comfort food. And food is very comforting. Why, just let go of your worries and have some chocolate at Aunt Sue’s Christmas dinner. Some coffee to go with that? Here, try some of this ice cream…
Reduce it With: Know thy triggers. I repeat, know which foods set off your symptoms. Do that with an IBS journal, of what foods cause your troubles and the symptoms they case. Exercise can alleviate IBS symptoms, as can meditation. Also, consider a comprehensive natural treatment for IBS. My pick? Digestive Science IBS Relief System.
About Acid Reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux, or acid reflux, is a condition in which stomach acid escapes through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Symptoms include regurgitation, hiccups, chronic sore throat, nausea and heartburn. Ouch.
Colon cleansing can reduce digestion problems, increase nutrient absorption and produce noticeable results.
Why it Hits in Winter: As with IBS, acid reflux doesn’t play favorites when it comes to seasons. But consider the risk factors for reflux, being spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, obesity, eating large meals and lying down after a meal, and you get a better picture why reflux pops up when the temperatures drop.
Reduce it With: Prevention helps. We’ve already discussed the virtues of nibbling your food rather than scarfing it down. Avoid large meals (and the seconds and the thirds and…) and keep your head elevated after eating. Still a problem? Try Digestive Science Reflux Elimination System – a natural system that blends enzyme renewal with pain relief and a fiber supplement with the superfood “Chia”.
With the passing of another year come the New Year resolutions that seldom make it past January 15th. The most common goal, as we’ve seen, is to slim down.
Admittedly it’s hard to stick to a routine of diets and health clubs throughout the year, especially in the doldrums of winter when comfort food is just so, well, comforting.
Rather than setting a goal that’s supposed to last a year but rarely lasts more than two weeks, why not try something just as dramatic, in a shorter time frame, with benefits including weight management, better skin, more energy, mental focus, less gas, constipation and diarrhea?
I’m talking about the colon cleanse you’ve heard so much about – a dramatic and, done correctly, healthy and refreshing way to start the New Year.
Benefits and Considerations
In the unlikely event you’re unfamiliar with this idea, colon cleansing refers to products and techniques that cleanse the body of toxins that build up in the colon and leak into the rest of the body. Those bad toxins accumulate in large part from the lifestyles we lead, including diet, stress, antibiotics and fatty acid deficiencies.
These factors can also aggravate the lining of the GI tract, which, when inflamed, can trigger infections, food allergies, poor nutrient absorption and a variety of digestion problems. And even more concerning, new evidence suggests GI inflammation may lead to colorectal cancer. Ditto for bacterial infections.
I’m not saying for a second that colon cleansing will cure cancer. If you think that, you’re looking for a quick fix to deeper, underlying health issues that need be addressed.
But I am saying that colon cleansing can reduce digestion problems, increase nutrient absorption and produce noticeable results. You skin will glow, you’ll feel better. New year and you feel alive.
The caveat? Most colon cleanse systems are just laxatives that aggravate your digestive system and make things worse. You want a colon cleanse system that works with your body, not against it, with natural laxatives, a probiotic supplement and another supplement for long-term health and function of your GI system. My pick? I’m a Digestive Science fan. Check out their Intensive Colon Cleanse.
So far we’ve talked about digestion in winter and matters of the stomach. And yet, one of the most common health complaints of colder weather is winter skin. After all, step outside when it’s minus five and you’re gonna feel it, with tight, flaky skin.
The skin under the eyes is the thinnest of the body, but the skin on your hands isn’t far behind. Yet there are fewer oil glands in the hands to keep them moist.
The problem is often exasperated by our tendency to crank up the heat when we’re chilly and (I’m way too guilty of this) take long, hot showers.
Fortunately, there’s skin care for every season. And skin care for winter can moisten dry skin, prevent flakiness and eczema and make your days just a little more bearable. Curious how to do that? Join me as we review the do’s and don’ts of winter skin care.
See a Specialist – There are plenty of eager sales people at your local pharmacy and drug store, but how much do they know about your skin and how to choose skin care products for your particular requirements? You’re better off paying for a consultation with a esthetician or dermatologist.
Even if it’s just one visit, a skin expert can analyze your skin type and recommend products that won’t anger your skin or make conditions worse. That doesn’t have to mean expensive products either – less pricey products can work just as well.
Moisturize – In winter, look for an ‘ointment’ moisturizer that’s oil-based rather than a cream or lotion-based on water. An oil product will form a protective layer over the skin that will retain water better than a cream or lotion. In a pinch, look for a “night cream” – often parlance for an ointment moisturizer.
In addition, natural skin care products make excellent moisturizers in winter. Consider avocado oil, mineral oil, primrose oil or almond oil. Avoid vegetable oil, which is too heavy to penetrate the facial skin and just sits on your face.
Also consider lotions with “humectants”. These substances, including glycerin and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) attract moisture to the skin, and you’ll find them in quality anti-aging products.
Sunscreen – Yes, sunscreen. Don’t pack it away for next summer. Keep it handy, because winter sun and snow glare can damage your skin. The same rules apply as in warmer months. Slather on a broad spectrum sun screen with an SPF of at least 30. Bonus: in some people, it can double as a moisturizer.
Protect Your Hands – The skin under the eyes is the thinnest of the body, but the skin on your hands isn’t far behind. Yet there are fewer oil glands in the hands to keep them moist. The results? In winter, dry, cracked hands.
In cold climates, wear gloves during winter, preferably made of wool. Slip light cotton gloves underneath if the wool irritates your skin.
Humidify – During winter, we huddle inside and blast our homes and offices with hot, dry air. Counter that dryness with several humidifiers, placed evenly around your home to add moisture to the air and alleviate the effects of said heaters on your skin.
Lukewarm, Not Hot Water – Yes, it’s cold outside, and it’s tempting to settle indoors with a L-O-O-N-G hot shower. That in turn zaps moisture from your skin, leaving it feeling tight and dry. Solutions? Bathe with lukewarm water. Take shorter baths and showers. When you get out of the tub, pat – don’t rub – yourself dry with a towel. Moisturize with a body moisturizer.
Remember, your skin and your basic physiology will determine the best skin care products for your skin type, be it dry, normal or oily. You can’t go wrong with at least one consultation with a skin care expert to determine the right products for comfort and anti-aging purposes.
Want more information about winter skin care? Check out http://www.webmd.com/healthy-beauty/features/ten-winter-skin-care-tips
Winter comes but once a year. And for all my preaching of eating light meals and going easy on the indoor heating, it’s inevitable that you’ll relapse with a large meal or that third round of Uncle Joe’s turkey come Christmas Day. I’m not trying to take all the joy out of life. Be merry. Have a great winter. And on Christmas day, what the heck, splurge a little.
But use common sense. Cap it at two rounds of dinner rather than three. Take your hot shower if it’s freezing outside. Then gradually turn the heat down and spend less time in the tub. Your skin will feel better, and not as flaky.
And don’t forget that the darkness of winter gives way to the promise of spring. If you watched your eating and stayed active over the holidays, you’ll show it in your face and when the clothes come off come the warmer days to follow. That will help your confidence. And just maybe, your sex appeal.