As we move into the time of comfort-food stews and winter cocooning, our bodies are heading into a particularly unhealthy time of year.
Here’s what’s coming at you, and what some experts say you can do about it:
• More weight: Holidays, high-carb comfort foods and hibernation mean weight gain. And you’re right, it is getting harder and harder to shed weight because each year you tend to lose half a pound of muscle mass and add a pound of fat.
“It’s time to pay more attention to winter squash and leafy greens,” said outpatient dietitian Kelly Scheller. “I know those sweets are calling, but this is really a time to eat slower and eat smarter.”
Genetics determines most of where the fat settles on your body. A small portion, called brown fat, helps keep you slim by burning calories and creating heat. But white fat, especially on or in your belly, stores energy and offers insulation — likely to increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.
What to do: Drink lots of water, eat more whole grains and a rainbow of vegetables, eat within an hour of waking, control portions and stay physically active. Cool the bedroom at night to sleep better.
• More grumpiness: Shorter days mean less sunlight, the doorway to SAD.
Feeling grumpy, edgy, depressed, sluggish, sleepy, hungry, distracted, maybe even suicidal?
Seasonal affective disorder worsens as the winter deepens and daily sunlight shrinks to less than nine hours. It’s worse for the half of adolescents who are already sleep-deprived (compared with 30 percent of adults), said Conrad Iber, director of the sleep program at Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis, Minn.
What to do: Most helpful will be sunlight or its electric equivalent on your face (the strongest receptors are in your eyes), exercise, socializing and plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin D. Manage your day so you get enough sleep. Antidepressant drugs may be needed for deeper depression.
• Tougher skin: Cold air and low humidity can dry and thicken your skin to help protect inside tissue, but can lead to chapped or cracked skin and lips.
What to do: Wear protective clothing and use moisturizer. Consider shortening baths and showers and applying baby or mineral oil on skin afterward.
• Colds and flu: This is prime time, mainly because we’re all cooped up a lot more.
What to do: A good, balanced diet, exercise, fresh air and adequate sleep will help keep your resistance up. Get a flu shot.
• Blood flow change: Your body adapts to the cold by shifting more blood flow to interior organs and away from your hands, feet and face.
What to do: Regular exercise and a good diet will keep your circulation balanced so that you’re less likely to have circulatory problems. Forgo hot coffee, which inhibits metabolism, and switch to hot tea, hot water or hot broth to warm up. Wear layers, and cover your wrists, ankles and head when you’re outside on cold days, to minimize heat loss.
Bottom line: Exercise, find ways to enhance sleep time, drink lots of water, eat right and get out into the sunshine.