For many, winter means frequent colds or mild to moderate depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD). General lethargy and a tendency to oversleep, overeat and under-exercise can also be far too common. But investing a little effort now can help to ensure your mood is maintained, your immune system is strengthened and winter weight gain is abated.
Stay in the light
Since SAD is related to a lack of light, it only makes sense that using light as a form of treatment would help reduce symptoms. Phototherapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin, which is the main reason why we tend to sleep more and hit snooze on the alarm clock when winter rolls around. Your solution: look for full-spectrum lighting. Light devices (light visors) can be worn around the head or banks of white fluorescent lights (light boxes) on metal reflectors can be placed in the home or office. Exposure for 30 minutes to two hours per day in the morning has been found to be very effective. For mild symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or arranging homes and workplaces to receive more sunlight may be helpful. One study found that an hour-long walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.
The herbal medicine, St. John’s Wort at dosage of 900 mg per day, has also been shown to help with the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. It is best to begin taking this one month prior to the onset of your symptoms since it takes four to six weeks to reach full effectiveness. If you already have the symptoms, however, it is not too late to take this herb. Check with your health practitioner or pharmacist before beginning this herbal remedy if you are currently taking medications.
Go crazy for C
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, a natural antihistamine and it also helps speed wound healing. Vitamin C helps to reduce the free-radical damage associated with the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and aging. Vitamin C’s immune-enhancing effect makes it essential in preventing infection as well as in shortening the duration of an illness. When you are experiencing stress or fatigue, vitamin C stores are rapidly depleted from the adrenal glands. To maximize effectiveness, select vitamin C supplements that contain bioflavonoids and take in divided dosages spaced throughout the day.
Top up your D3
Vitamin D3, also called cholecalciferol, is produced when the sun’s rays hit our skin, which makes us prone to deficiencies common in winter. Many studies have tested the hypothesis that vitamin D deficiency might play a role in SAD. It can also protect us from the flu. A 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having more recent colds or flu. Vitamin D is essential for healthy and strong bones, helps in the prevention of autoimmune diseases and is also important in the treatment and prevention of insulin resistance and cancer. The optimal dosage for vitamin D3 in the winter is 2000Iu to 5000IU per day. Ergocalciferol, also referred to as vitamin D2 is available in supplement form, but is not our naturally occurring form of vitamin D and therefore not the most beneficial.
Power-up with probiotics
Acidophilus and bifidus are two of the many types of friendly bacteria that live in our digestive tract. While the natural healthy bacterial balance in our digestive tract can be affected by poor dietary habits and by the use of medications such as birth control pills, corticosteroids or antibiotics, studies have proven that taking acidophilus helps to reduce the frequency and severity of infections. It is wise to follow any course of antibiotics with supplements of acidophilus for double the length of time you took the antibiotics.
Strengthen your body
It’s easy to stay indoors and on the couch when the temperature outside drops, but in fact, exercise is our best weapon to fight against both winter weight gain and the winter blues. And exercise increases energy, which can be sapped by gloomy weather. It also bolsters your immune system — studies show that moderate exercisers get 20 to 30 percent fewer colds than those who do not. To maintain your mood, it is important to exercise a minimum of every 48 hours and don’t be afraid to increase your weights or the intensity of your workouts.
Best kind of exercise
Here’s another interesting benefit of exercise: it raises your body temperature, which can suppress your ferocious winter appetite – provided that you are not swimming in a pool of cool water. Let me explain. Noting that swimmers tended to have larger appetites and more body fat than other types of athletes, Professor Louise Burke, Head of Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport, investigated the effect of temperature on bodyweight and appetite. She had two groups of swimmers complete the same 45-minute workout – one in a cold pool and one in a pool at a neutral temperature. Following the workout, the participants were offered as much food as they wanted. The swimmers who came out of cooler water consistently consumed about 44 percent more calories than the others from the warmer pool. Conversely, other studies have identified short-term appetite-suppressing effects with exercise that increases body temperature, such as cycling and running. Incorporate these suggestions early and you will beat the winter blues, weight gain and the flu.