When I think of winter, I always think of a White Christmas. Snow showers, Christmas decorations and lights everywhere... it's truly a wonderful time of the year. To be honest, it only feels magical at the beginning of the season... and then the grey sky and freezing temperatures take over. Most people remain indoors while the brave-hearted set out to ski or skate occasionally. Health-wise, this season is challenging for many. Sitting indoors (with doors and windows closed), the lack of Vitamin D, and moving from heated indoors to cold outdoors and vice versa gets a lot of people sick this time of the year. Apart from the usual cold and flu; asthma, joint and bone problems, dry skin and poor circulation, a weak digestive fire, constipation, kidney and bladder issues, and depression are common this time of the year.
Here are some things you can do to stay healthy!
Eat warm, slow-cooked food. Drink warm beverages. It's cold outside, so it is wise to eat foods that are slow cooked or that slowly warm you up. Uncooked food, raw fruit or vegetables, or cold food is harder to digest during this time of the year and will leave you feeling cold. So, it is best avoided unless eaten as a small side.
Slow-cooked soups and stews, moist & hearty porridges, baked delicacies, and occasional deep-fried foods are good to have this time of the year.
Add warming spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and garlic in small amounts to increase the warmth of the food.
Herbs such as thyme, cayenne, and rosemary give the body's circulation a slight boost, so use them as well.
Add fat (cooking oils such as ghee and sesame oil, butter, nut butter, cheese, paneer, and animal fat/protein for meateaters) to your food as it helps lubricate your bones and joints, push food smoothly through the body, and keep you warm during the winter.
Grains to favor at this time are wheat, oatmeal, and hardy rice such as red rice & brown rice.
Squashes and root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, yams, burdock, carrots, parsnips, etc., are in season for a reason. They strengthen your core and roots and keep you warm, while sturdy seasonal greens, such as kale, bok choy, and collard greens, clear up any excess heat that accumulates during winter.
Up your protein intake. Meateaters can enjoy eggs, meat, and bone marrow soup (in moderation) as they nourishes the bones and kidneys. Vegetarians can enjoy paneer, lentils, and kidney/black beans instead. Vegans can eat tempeh, tofu, nut butters, nuts, etc.
Fruits, such as pears and apples, are best eaten stewed or baked with spices.
Enjoy black and white sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, and pine nuts. They keep the body warm during the winter season.
Using blackstrap molasses and jaggery are beneficial as well.
Warm water, herbal teas (with ginger), masala chai, medicinal mushroom chai, etc. are great at this time.
If you drink alcohol, you can opt for an occasional mulled wine, or a warm ginger-honey cocktail (with brandy) to help you get through winter. Red wine (in moderation) can also be taken as it is good for the blood and 'qi' of the body, and helps keep cold at bay.
Massage your body with warming oils.
Use sesame oil (if it's locally available) to massage your body. If not, use olive/jojoba/almond oil. Occasionally, take a warm bath with epsom salts or sit in a steam room, if you have access to one.
Take a Vitamin D supplement. Most people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency in the winters because their exposure to sunlight is limited. Everyone knows how essential Vitamin D is for keeping their bones strong. Some studies also link Vitamin D deficiency with depression, which is common during this time of the year. So, it's always good to get your Vitamin D levels tested in winter, and supplement if your doctor thinks so.
Practice light forms of exercise & meditation. Take a cue from nature and you will see that this is the time of the year is to go within, to calm down, and relax. So, exercise in moderation (yoga, walking) and meditate when you can. Meditation has a beautiful way of calming you down and helping you relax - emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Conserve your sexual energy and fluids during the winter. Since the body's energy is now in the core and roots, excess sexual activity will lead to the depletion of this energy, which is essential to winter survival.
Cover up, especially when you step out. The extra layers on your body block external pathogens, such as cold, from attacking your body, especially your bones. Ensure the layers you wear are comfortable and not too tight. The idea is to keep blood and energy flowing smoothly through the body, and not to constrict it. Also ensure to keep your waist and legs covered when you step out. The energy of your body is currently at its core (waist area) and roots (legs). Keep it warm.
NOTE: The tips listed here assume that you are reasonably healthy and don't have any disease or chronic condition because of which you have to follow a restricted diet.