Keep Your Body + Mind Healthy This Winter
Let’s face it… Winter makes it tougher to stay healthy. And this winter is tougher than average.
Colds. Flu. A global pandemic.
So, what can we do to give our bodies the best chance at staying strong and healthy through winter’s dark days? How can we boost our immunity?
We enlisted the expert help of Dr. Jamie Glover, MD, founder/owner of Glover Family Medicine in Monument and assistant clinical professor for the University of Colorado's School of Medicine. She helped narrow down the list to a few common sense, science-backed ideas.
“In the past, people were just kind of doing those things out of intuition,” said Glover, who is also a former Air Force physician. “And now, maybe some science is coming out that helps us understand why those things work.”
Metabolism: Work(out) Smarter, Not Harder
If you’re not training for a marathon or trying to lose 100 pounds, take it easy. A growing body of research suggests that light exercise might even be better than heavy workouts when it comes to overall health.
“It sounds kind of boring to say I recommend walking 30 minutes 6 to 7 times a week or an hour 3 to 4 times a week,” Glover said. “But it’s very, very good for you.”
Let’s get down to the cellular level for a moment. How do you support each cell’s metabolism? You could pick any cell in the body, but since we’re dealing with a pandemic, let’s choose an immune cell.
“Don’t you want your immune cell’s metabolism on a cellular level to be the best that it can be so that if you do get a virus – whether it’s from the pandemic or some other virus – it has the best shot of handling that well?”
Studies indicate that aerobic metabolism is less inflammatory than the faster-paced anaerobic metabolism, in which oxygen demand is greater than supply. The problem with many viruses, illnesses and Covid-19 is the inflammation they create and how the body handles the ensuing inflammatory “storm.”
Keeping inflammation low on a day-to-day basis may help protect you from more serious issues when you’re ill. The best way to stay in the aerobic range is to subtract your age from 180 and keep your heart rate near that number for the duration of your exercise.
Elite athletes may have solid reasons to push their heart rates higher. But that comes at a cost – more strenuous workouts can mean more recovery for your body. For most of us, aerobic metabolism creates a stronger body constantly in an optimal state rather than constantly trying to recover.
Food: Variety Matters
Look for a variety of foods – especially plant-based foods. Glover says to lean toward things “as close to their source in nature as possible.” For instance, instead of grabbing a bottle of salad dressing from the store, you could consider using a drizzle of olive oil and a shake of salt or pepper as dressing.
Vitamins and nutrients are best absorbed through your foods. So, what foods are worst and best? Limit refined sugars and simple, starchy carbs. Reach instead for whole grains, healthy fats, fiber, protein and fruits and vegetables.
Have you heard the saying, shop the perimeter of the grocery store? That is where you’ll find most of the freshest, most nutritious foods, including produce, meat and dairy. It’s an easy place to start, right?
“Beets, dark berries, darker roughage are slam dunks, if you can figure out a way to incorporate those into your diet.”
Those so-called superfoods are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Seem like a big step from where you are now? Start with 1-2 days a week and work your way up.
Drinks: Water, Booze and Other Fluids
If you drink eight cups of water per day, congratulations! For the rest of us, a little tip: Eight cups of water is a g-o-a-l. The actual guidance is 64 ounces of fluid. A cup of tea or coffee counts. So does soup.
“It doesn’t have to be all water.”
Things like soda and other artificially flavored and sweetened drinks, however, might not be your best bet. Try a squeeze of lemon or lime in your water, if you’d like added flavor.
What about booze?
Since the start of Covid-19, Glover said she has noticed a marked increase in alcohol use among her patients. She doesn’t judge. But she does suggest knowing what a serving is and being honest with yourself about your intake.
“Sometimes, people put three servings in a glass,” she said.
According to the CDC, a standard drink is equal to 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. That’s roughly:
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content); 8 ounces for craft beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor
What if you aren’t sure you get enough vitamins and minerals from your food?
Glover doesn’t recommend loading your body with supplements, but there are a handful that are well-tested and might help support your immune system. An old-fashioned multi-vitamin wouldn’t hurt, she said. Try to choose one tailored to your age and gender. And…
Covid-19 has propelled this one to superhero status.
Its health benefits are vast, but it doesn’t occur naturally in many foods. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are the best sources. Other foods such as some cereals, milk and orange juice sometimes are fortified with it.
Sun is another great source, but it’s tough for most people to get enough rays.
“Basically, you might need to be in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts, at least, to get the kind of sun you need,” Dr. Glover said. “So, that’s hard to do in Colorado in the winter.”
And even in summer, many people cover up or wear sunscreen – great for helping prevent skin cancer, but both reduce vitamin D.
So, what’s a person to do?
Your doctor can test your levels. Or you can take a supplement, simply as insurance. The darker your skin, the more likely you are to be deficient.
“If you don’t have access to testing… it would be safe and probably beneficial for many body functions to take 4000 International Units per day if you have dark skin or 2000 International Units per day if you have light skin.”
In addition to supporting many bodily functions, Zinc appears to have some antiviral properties and bodies don’t store it, so make sure you’re getting enough. Foods that contain it include dairy, eggs, nuts, some vegetables, meat, shellfish, whole grains and legumes.
This is perhaps the biggest immune booster of all, so it wouldn’t hurt to take 75 to 100 mg daily and bump it up if you’re exposed to a nasty bug, Glover said.
Many people think of melatonin as a sleep aid. But research suggests its benefits may be wider reaching than that. Ask your doctor about the possible benefits of taking 300 mcg or so each evening.
“It is an antioxidant. It is anti-inflammatory. It does actually have a role in cellular metabolism.”
And Finally… Get Some Sleep!
If you’re not sleeping well, your body isn’t functioning as well as it could.
Adults should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep daily and teens should be getting a couple of hours more than that. But for some of us, that’s easier said than done. If you are one of those folks, Glover offers a few research-backed tips:
- Keep a notebook by your bed. If you are stressed, anxious or simply ruminating on something, studies show writing down just a few words about it can help you release it and fall back to sleep.
- Limit caffeine before bed – at least six hours and longer if needed. Figure out what’s best for you.
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
- Take a break from electronics at least an hour before bed. Read. Meditate. Use a guided relaxation app. Breathe.
- If you try the above and still can’t sleep, get some help. “Some things are not intuitive,” Glover said. Find a sleep psychologist. Go to an insomnia clinic. Read up on cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). There are even apps that might help.
Glover’s best advice, perhaps, is this: “In these times of winter and a pandemic, there is some good. We are learning new things. We will get through this together.”