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A monthly column from Beverly A. Jackey MS, RDN Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences University of Maryland Extension:
Despite some unseasonably warm temperatures in late December and early January, winter and the cold weather have arrived! Is it harder to get out of bed on winter mornings when the temperature is low and it’s darker outside? Many people do and also feel sluggish during the winter months.
The combination of cold weather and fewer daylight hours create challenges in finding the motivation to eat healthy and be physically active. When healthy habits fall off, your immune system weakens, increasing your risk of getting a cold, the flu, stomach bugs and other infections.
Flu season in the U.S. peaks between December and February and about 20% of Americans get the cold or flu each year.
It may be cold outside, but winter doesn’t have to be an unhealthy time for you or your family. Holiday excitement and distractions are over and you may just feel like hibernating, but instead take charge and re-focus on your health. To get started, I’ll share some wellness tips I’m following to maintain good health and fitness this winter.
Curb the Carbs:
Cold weather can increase cravings for more carbs and comfort foods. (For me, it’s pre- and post-holiday cookies). After carb-filled foods are consumed, serotonin, a brain hormone, increases, causing the carb cravings to continue throughout the day.
In other words, the more carb-filled foods you eat, the more you crave. To break this cycle, include some protein-rich foods at breakfast like eggs, yogurt, and hummus (instead of butter) to keep your energy high throughout the day. Also, to avoid afternoon sweets or carb cravings, I keep low-fat and healthy snacks like whole grain crackers and peanut butter and trail mix with nuts handy.
Up Your Fiber:
New research shows that consuming foods with soluble fiber like apples, pears, oats, nuts and avocados decreases inflammation and boosts your immune system. The fiber stimulates infection-fighting T-cells which help you recover from infections faster.
Citrus fruits, berries, and flaxseed are also good sources of soluble fiber. Try adding 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds into your oatmeal, cold cereal or soups or tossing sliced oranges or strawberries into salads or plain Greek yogurt.
Spice it Up:
Many spices and herbs have been shown to improve immune function. Garlic, onion, ginger and cilantro have immune-boosting properties and add flavor to foods. Turmeric, a spice often used in Indian foods, contains curcumin, which gives curry its yellow color.
Curcumin is as a powerful antioxidant and also decreases inflammation. You can sprinkle turmeric on your food, however when I’m feeling under the weather or a bit run down, I like to make a ‘turmeric tea’ (recipe below). You can also buy turmeric tea bags in most grocery stores.
Outdoors or indoors. The cold winter months don’t have to be an excuse to stay indoors. There are plenty of fun, individual or family activities you can do outdoor like ice skating or hockey or taking a winter walk or run in one of Cecil County’s beautiful parks with trails. The crisp outdoor air can also clear your mind and be invigorating.
However, if you have no desire to be outdoors, there are many free library and online workout videos (yoga, strength training and aerobics) that you can use in the comfort of your home. Don’t like to work out alone? Take a group fitness class at your local gym, community or senior center. It’s a great way to socialize and meet new people too. Bowling, swimming and dancing are also great indoor activities.
Catch Some Sleep:
Did you know lack of sleep can make you sick? Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, like the common cold.
Lack of sleep not only can prevent your body from fighting infectious diseases, but it also affects how fast you recover if you do get sick. The optimal amount of sleep needed to boost your immune system is 7-8 hours for adults, 9-10 for teens and over 10 for school-aged children. To get a good night sleep, set up a routine. Go to bed the same time each night, avoid caffeine 6 hours and smoking 2 hours before bedtime.
Recipe for turmeric tea:
- Boil 3 to 4 cups of water on the stove.
- Add 2 teaspoons of turmeric and stir.
- Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Strain the tea into another container.
- Add in honey, fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice, and milk to taste.