Much of the United States has been experiencing a polar vortex of snow, ice and negative temperatures that keeps us inside – often snuggled up with a box of tissues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says common colds (there are millions of cases each year in the United States) are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work. What’s more, the peak of flu season can occur anywhere from late November through March.
Why the spike in the winter? Germs actually travel faster in the cold air, and being inside more often makes it harder to prevent illness, said Theresa DeLorenzo, DCN, RD, director of Logan University’s nutrition and human performance program. To help us all stay healthy through the cold and gray months, Dr. DeLorenzo offers a few practical tips:
- Get outside. Whether it’s a walk in the morning, on your lunch break or in the evening after work, try to spend some time in the fresh air each day – it can boost your mood and physical health.
- Sleep. Your body needs at least eight hours of shuteye each night to help fight off sickness.
- Exercise. Join your local gym, take a spin class, walk or run outside, or follow a few fitness videos online from the comfort of your own home. It doesn’t matter how you move your body – just that you are active. If you do hit up the gym, be sure to sanitize equipment before and after each use to decrease the spread of germs.
- Stay hydrated. It’s a common misconception that you don’t have to drink as much water during the colder months as you would during the warmer months, but your body needs water regardless of outdoor temps. Aim to drink eight glasses a day.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Nutrients we receive from produce, such as vitamins A and C, help fight illness and strengthen the immune system, as does zinc, which is found in chicken, nuts and shellfish.
- Supplement with Vitamin D. During the winter months, anyone who lives above 30 degrees latitude (Boston and further north) is unable to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun. Since Vitamin D is not present in large doses in foods (fortified milk, shiitake mushrooms and eggs are a few good sources), Dr. DeLorenzo recommends supplementing with 400 to 1,000 IUs of Vitamin D from October to March.