How to Winter
“Winter presents new challenges to staying well. Weather can preclude outdoor activity, the cold reminds us of our aches and pains, and less daylight can affect our mood. Purposing to stay well is the best way to achieve the outcome,” says Adam Myers, MD, Chief of Population Health and Director of Cleveland Clinic Community Care.
Cleveland Clinic physicians offer these strategies for adapting rhythms and routines to stay resilient throughout the season.
Beat the Blues
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that most often presents during the winter. It’s thought to be related to a decrease in sunlight exposure. People with SAD report reduced energy and increased irritability. Two effective strategies to prevent or cope with SAD:
Increase exposure to sunlight
Spending time outdoors in sunlight or using a special full-spectrum lamp during the winter can improve mood and reduce symptoms.
Raise serotonin levels
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter in the brain, and reduced amounts may contribute to depression, low energy and irritability. A natural way to boost your serotonin level is to increase the frequency of doing the things you enjoy—hobbies, spending time with friends, trips to special places. Elevating your physical activity is also a valuable approach. In addition, eating 1 to 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day can help increase serotonin levels. Sometimes patients may need their primary doctor to prescribe an SSRI, a medication that raises effective serotonin levels to help ease symptoms.
Roxanne B. Sukol, MD, MS, is Vice Chair for Executive Health. Follow her blog at YourHealthIsOn YourPlate.com.
Catch Consistent ZZZs
Sleep is our most potent source of energy and has positive effects on metabolism, heart health and brain health. Yet winter’s longer nights and shorter days can actually produce a negative change in our circadian rhythms.
Hibernating bears aside, sleep problems may emerge because of less light exposure, more sedentary lifestyles and holiday bingeing. Pay attention to sleep hygiene—how consistently you go to sleep and wake up—by not allowing bedtimes to vary. And exercise during the day to expend a big dose of energy before calling it a night.
Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, DO, MS, is Director of the Sleep Disorders Center. Follow her on Twitter @NancyFoldvaryDO.
Winterize Your Diet
Choose naturally colorful foods
Stay away from foods high in fat, sugar and refined grains by trying to eat at least five different colors every day. Colorful foods are rich in vitamins and minerals and prepare your body for immunity to seasonal illnesses.
Embrace winter produce in season
Prepare healthy versions of your favorite comfort foods
Comfort foods help us escape from the cold days of winter but typically lean toward the unhealthy. Reinvent your favorites by researching recipes that are high on familiar taste and texture but low on fat, sugar, sodium and carbs.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a Consultant of Wellness Nutrition Services for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine. Find more tips and recipes at KristinKirkpatrick.com.
Comfort Food Reinvention
Spaghetti and Meatballs
These meatballs go great with whole-wheat or bean-based spaghetti and a pesto sauce. Serves 4.
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 2 cups washed baby spinach
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup whole-grain breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray a large baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
- Place a steamer basket over simmering water in a pot over medium heat and steam baby spinach until wilted, 1-2 minutes. Let cool, squeeze out water and chop.
- In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, garlic, shallot, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, pepper and spinach; mix well. Use your hands to form 12 equal-size meatballs.
- Transfer meatballs to the baking dish and bake for 15-20 minutes, until meatballs are golden brown and no longer pink inside.
—From Skinny Liver by Kristin Kirkpatrick with Ibrahim Hanouneh (Da Capo Lifelong Books)