In winter, the sun sets earlier, a chill fills the air, and we spend less time outside being active and more time inside eating starchy and sugary foods. Our hibernating instinct doesn't keep us healthy. Rather, our immune system takes a hit, allowing winter colds and flus to grab hold.
Luckily, there are certain things you can do to keep your energy up, your immune system strong and your body healthy all winter long.
1. Drink healthy fluids
Sugary and caffeinated beverages can suppress immune-system function, not to mention cause weight gain and dehydration. Drinking six to eight glasses a day of water or herbal tea can keep your digestive system healthy, your weight down and your energy up. This is especially important over the winter months to help flush the system. Green and white teas are also wonderful antioxidant-rich options to keep you healthy throughout the season.
2. Get some z's
Sleeping is one of the most effective ways to refuel after a stressful day. Make sure to sleep in a dark room to ensure your body properly secretes the hormone melatonin, which is believed to help repair the immune system.
3. Avoid added sugars
In addition to causing weight gain, refined flours and sugars can suppress immune-system function. In other words, if there is a flu or cold circulating and you go a little crazy on the white sugar (cookies, pop, candy, etc.), you're creating the perfect environment for illness to strike. Turn to naturally occurring sugars found in fruit for some sweetness. If you crave chocolate, go for dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa), which contains plant phenols that have been shown to lower blood pressure. Cut up squares and store them in your freezer. Grab one or two when you need a sweet treat.
4. Go for garlic
The sulfur-containing compounds in garlic help increase the potency of two important cells of the immune system, T-lymphocytes and macrophages, which in turn help battle colds. Eat garlic raw or cooked for an immune-system boost.
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5. Eat zinc-rich foods
Zinc helps prevent a weakened immune system. Get adequate amounts by eating oysters, liver, lean beef, pork, turkey, lamb, lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds, garbanzo beans and yogurt.
6. Favour fruits and veggies
A recent study of more than 35,000 Canadians conducted by the Canadian Community Health Survey showed that the majority of us eat fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day -- Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends eating five to 10 servings per day. One serving is equal to:
• 1 medium-size fresh vegetable or fruit
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh, frozen or canned vegetables or fruit
• 1 cup (250 mL) salad
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) juice
7. Move it
Don't succumb to inactivity this winter -- hit the yoga studio, run on the treadmill or suit up and head outdoors. A brisk walk burns calories, gets the blood flowing and increases energy.
And don't forget to watch your stress levels over the winter -- when we don't get enough sun exposure, mood and energy tend to fluctuate. Journaling, meeting with friends, enjoying "me" time and meditating are all wonderful ways to keep yourself healthy and happy.
Dr. Joey Shulman is author of bestselling book The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005). For more information, please visit www.drjoey.com.
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