Winter Health Tips

11/19/2020

Its 2020, and winter is on its way.  Along with it is a never-ending stream of insatiable and somewhat propagandist rhetoric about how "cold and flu season" is on the way. 

Because we all know, much like birds flock south for the winter, germs flock to a neighborhood near you and begin an incessant assault on your immune system.

It doesn't have to be that way.

There are many strategies to be employed during the colder times that can stave off sicknesses.  Not only that, but you can actually thrive during these months if you keep a keen eye on your lifestyle choices whether they be nutritional, physical or mental.

There are many things that people change abruptly during the colder times of the year.  Add on top of that that the days get shorter so there is less sunlight and more darkness, literally and metaphorically.  We stay inside more often, wear more layers of clothing, get less sunlight and tend to reduce physical activity.  This is especially true of those that enjoy things like running outside and walking.  Also, since we humans tend to gravitate to areas of comfort, to the detriment of our bodies and minds in the long run, the temptations to sit inside all warm and cozy and eat large, hot, fattening meals, often ordered in, we set ourselves up for reduced immune vigilance.

There are really two main things that I want to address here in this article and ironically neither have to do with nutrition (although I will touch on that a bit obviously).

The first one is that we get reduced sunlight which means our body does not create as much vitamin D from said sun rays.  Vitamin D is crucial to our immune systems and is actually a hormone and technically not a vitamin.  This is a "vitamin" (I'll use that term here  for ease of reading) that most people are already deficient in as it is.  This deficiency becomes multiplied when the daylight grows shorter and we stay inside where the only light we get is artificial.

It is possible to supplement vitamin D3 and this has become very popular.  But getting more sunlight is also a great way to increase production of this valuable hormone. Also getting more sunshine is associated with less depression, which seems to heighten during the winter. 

The second area of concern is double-pronged.  We wear more clothing and exercise less often.  Let me explain why these are related concepts.

Without going to in depth about unrelated concepts, our bodies have multiple natural detoxification pathways.  These are natural routes to remove toxic buildup which not only comes from external toxicity but is also a natural process.  Human cells, no matter how healthy you are, create waste and this waste, much like a factory, must be removed or else it builds up creating toxicity which leads to disease over time.

The four main pathways of detoxification are kidneys (urine), liver (metabolism), digestive tract (bowel movements) and skin (sweat). 

What we're focused on here is the fourth. The skin is the largest organ in the body and due to the surface area can get rid of many toxins efficiently. When we sweat, such as through exercise or saunas, we help to get rid of lots of bio-accumulation (waste). 

That's where the old adage "sweat it out" comes from.

So, what happens during the winter months? Of course, it gets much colder in most places, and so naturally we add more and more clothing.  Often times we are literally covered from head to foot.  This prevents effective sweating.  In fact, since the sweat cannot evaporate it is often reabsorbed through the same organ that intended to get rid of it. 

An interesting thing happens when natural detoxification pathways are "blocked" such as when we cover our entire bodies with layers. The body goes into what is known as vicarious or secondary detoxification which means the toxins are rerouted to secondary and less efficient channels, organs and pathways. One of these is the lungs. 

The body is going to get rid of toxins one way or another, otherwise it would become so toxic that there would be system-wide failure and I don't need to tell you where that leads.

So suddenly you have a runny nose.  Or, you're coughing up phlegm. Your body temperature rises...known as a fever, which is a natural way to increase enzymatic activity.  That is why your body has a fever at all. This is also a byproduct of the liver literally "firing up" into a higher level in order to handle an increased load. 

There are easy and simple ways to combat this process. One, obviously, is to keep exercising and therefore sweating during the winter months.  This could mean exercising at home or indoors or taking up winter activities.  Skiing and snowboarding is very popular where I live, and I've noticed very easily that these people tend to be much healthier and vibrant throughout the winter months.  

Using saunas is also a great way to naturally sweat, although you have to remember to drink a lot of water...much more than most people think...to replenish your body.  Sweating is great, but dehydration will throw a wrench in the entire process and can really backfire as dehydration is one of the number one causes of sickness in the world.  

One activity that I have taken up in the last few years that has yielded great dividends is cold showers.  There is a reason why most people don't like doing this....its very uncomfortable at first!

However, while cold showers in themselves are great for your immune and cardiovascular systems, they can set up for an even better activity which is simply being able to go shirtless (or with less clothing for females) even during the coldest of times. The cold showers not only help your immunity they also help you adapt to cold weather. I have noticed personally that after taking cold showers for several days or weeks on end, even for just 60 seconds or so, I can actually handle cold weather pretty easily.

People tend to give strange looks on the slopes when I come flying out of nowhere, shirtless and having a blast even though its close to freezing (or lower).  Not only am I now boosting immunity through adapting to different temperatures but now I'm getting even more vitamin D...so its like a multiplier.  

The bottom line is that during the winter we must resist the urge to hibernate and hunker down...no matter what the television has to say.  We're meant to be mobile beings, and we're meant to sweat, regularly.  We are not bears that can lay in a cave for three months in the dark. We need to sweat and get sunlight, even if its just on our faces.

Obviously, there are lots of nutritional tactics that can be explored during winter times, and I certainly will write several volumes on that subject, as well as tons of other psychological and lifestyle related hacks.  But for now, make sure that you keep exercising (its healthy for your whole body anyway!) and avoiding being cooped up indoors for long periods, which can lead to depression and anxiety which destroy the immune system chronically.

Keep active, nourished and in high spirits.  Until next time!

Ben

Nutritionist / Strength Specialist