8 Winter Steps for Healthy Living

Don't hibernate -- take advantage of winter to take stock and improve your health.

From the WebMD Archives

Hibernating may be a natural impulse during the winter months, whether you live in a sub-zero climate or a winter-rainy one. While it's easy to pump the remote instead of weights and to succumb to the allure of comfort food, try a different tactic this winter: Resist the urge to hibernate, take stock, and improve your winter health. Come spring, you'll be happy you did.

To get you launched, WebMD talked to health experts in fields like fitness, stress, vision, oral health, and more. We asked them this: If you could suggest one simple change this season to boost personal health, what would it be? Here are their top tips.

1. Go Sweet on Your Diet

Ready to do just one thing this winter to spruce up your diet? Incorporate sweet potatoes, which are very much in season. A medium-sized sweet potato has about 100 calories and 4 grams of fiber, along with vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. And it's loaded with beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant.

Sweet potatoes are super simple to fix, too. Wash the potato well, poke it with a fork so it cooks better, wrap it in wax paper, and microwave for about six minutes. Delicious!

2. Take Inventory -- Reduce Stress Long-Term

To improve your stress level, focus on being a "total person." That phrase is an acronym for:

Time Out To Assess Lifestyle -- focusing on Physical health, Emotional health, Recreational status, Spiritual and social health, and Organizational and Nutritional health.

All you do is pick one of those areas to improve. For instance, take charge of emotions by vowing to write down all the negative statements you make so next time you can reframe them into positive ones. Example: "I have to work overtime" becomes "I choose to work overtime so I can get out of debt."

3. Venture Out to Work Out

Break up your indoor workout with outdoor activity. Depending on your location, try snowshoeing, trail walking, or, if you're in warmer climes, hill walking on a golf course or in a park with rain gear. Besides the workout benefit, the outdoors offers you much needed light exposure, giving you not just a workout but a mood boost.

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4. On Guard! For Your Teeth

Winter sports may nudge you out of hibernation, but they carry a real risk of tooth trauma if you take a spill when skiing, skating, or boarding.

Consider a sport guard -- a device that looks like a bleaching tray but is thick rubber. Put it over your upper teeth, and there is less risk of breakage -- or big dental bills. Custom-made models are about $75 to $150; over-the-counter, about $10.

5. Winterize Those Eyes

There's no winter vacation from eye protection. Wear ski goggles when skiing and sunglasses when outdoors to protect your eyes from UV rays. Look for eyewear that blocks 100% UVA and UVB. If you're unsure about whether your glasses block the rays sufficiently, take them to your eye doctor, who can check their UV protection level.

6. Assess Your Heart Health

Winter's the season of love -- what with all the holidays and Valentine's Day -- so get serious with yourself and assess your heart health.

Ask your doctor to measure your personal health numbers and tell you the results: blood pressure, height, weight, waist circumference, blood cholesterol, and fasting blood glucose. Ask where you need improvement. Then pick one thing as your winter project. For instance, improve your diet in a small way, such as making your plate more colorful with a range of fruits and vegetables.

7. Alcohol: Think of Your Heart

Winter's a time for heartier meals, such as stews, and red wine is a perfect accompaniment (unless you are pregnant or should not drink for health or other reasons). Red wine is a concentrated source of antioxidants shown to help heart health.

If you're invited to many winter parties, pace your drinking of red wine or other alcoholic beverages by having a seltzer or sparkling water in between each. You'll stay sober and cut your alcohol intake at the same time.

8. Sleep: Stay Cool

Resist the urge to crank up the thermostat to tropical levels during a chilly winter's eve. To ensure good sleep, keep your bedroom temperature at 65 or 70 F. And don't overload the blankets. Lower temperatures are more conductive to good-quality sleep.

These eight strategies may have you re-thinking winter as the season of stagnation. Try one tip or plunge into all eight. It'll be spring before you know it!

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sources

SOURCES: Cynthia Sass, RD, registered dietitian, adjunct professor of nutrition, University of South Florida; spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association. Edward Charlesworth, PhD, stress management expert; author, Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness. Sally Cram, DDS, periodontist and spokeswoman, American Dental Association. Gregory Florez, certified health fitness instructor; spokesman for the American Council on Exercise; CEO, www.fitadvisor.com. Andrea Thau, OD, spokeswoman, American Optometric Association. Jennifer Mieres, MD, director, nuclear cardiology, New York University Medical Center; spokeswoman, American Heart Association. David Katz, MD, director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine; and co-author, The Flavor Point Diet. Dennis H. Nicolson, MD, spokesman, American Academy of Sleep Medicine; sleep disorders specialist, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.

© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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