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Most experts agree that there’s really never a bad time to start adopting healthy habits that can increase your energy, enhance your mood, and give you a sense of routine and consistency that can improve productivity. But if there’s one time of the year when habit changing reigns supreme, it is often wintertime, when the pace feels slower and there’s more opportunity for downtime and reflection.
The indulgence that tends to accompany the holiday season is another major motivator for people to consider ways to “get back on track” with their health goals. “We tend to end the year with a lot of decadence, overeating and over-celebrating, and the cold weather tends to limit the amount of activities we’re doing, which can make us feel off-balanced,” explains Roger E. Adams, doctor of nutrition and owner of Eatrightfitness. “Just like anyone who gets restless from sitting too long, this happens in the wintertime when we don’t have our normal activity patterns, so it spurs us to get creative and eat healthier to combat the drop in activity or find other ways to be active.”
There’s no denying that the promise of a new year ahead, not to mention warmer months coming up on your calendar, can lend itself to a great opportunity to start fresh and set new intentions. To help inspire you to make the most of these colder months, here are some expert-recommended health habits to start during winter.
1. Clock seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Sleep is one of our body’s most basic biological functions, yet 1 in 3 Americans are not getting their fair share each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adequate sleep not only gives you enough energy to make it through your day, but it has also been associated with an increased risk for myriad health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity.
One great way to help ensure you’re getting enough quality sleep is to try to go to bed earlier, which might be easier to do during winter since the nights get dark earlier. Going to bed earlier also will help encourage you to wake up earlier, which may boost your mental health. In fact, one study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that waking up just one hour early was associated with a 23 percent reduced risk of depression. What’s more: A survey by Amerisleep found that waking up early could actually make you more productive, which can help you in far more ways than just your health.
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2. Adopt a new hobby.
Too many of us feel limited for free time that we can spend doing things that make us feel happy and fulfilled. No matter what it is you enjoy doing, whether it’s making pottery or playing tennis, a great health habit to start during winter is to make space in your schedule to engage in actual leisure time. Doing so, according to St. Louis–based mental health therapist Stephanie Korpal, can be a protective factor against burnout, anxiety, depression, and so much more. “While hunkered down at home in the winter, it can be the ideal time to try out any number of options: reading, crafting, puzzles and so much more,” she says. “Try out a few things and remember: You don’t have to be good at whatever you choose, you just have to enjoy it!”
3. Cook more meals at home.
Not only can cooking at home help you save money, since you’re not doling out cash on takeout or dining at restaurants, but it also can serve as a habit that helps you consume more fresh and whole foods, which are beneficial for your health. While you’re at it, Josh Axe, founder of Ancient Nutrition and author of Ancient Remedies, recommends adding in root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, parsnips, beets, squash, and turnips, which are in season during the winter months and are rich in such micronutrients as calcium, magnesium folate, potassium, and vitamin C. “They are also high in dietary fiber, which means that they help regulate digestion and keep you full longer,” he says. “Eating a hearty bowl of soup and stew in the wintertime provides the nutrients you need to stay healthy while keeping you satisfied so you’re less likely to give in to food cravings.”
4. Start working out from the comfort of your home.
Whether you prefer to work out in the gym or outdoors, you may find both locations to be rather challenging to get to during the colder months. For this reason, it can be beneficial to set up some sort of at-home workout environment. Adams suggests taking the opportunity to invest in a few dumbbells, a yoga mat, and an app or two. “You know those bad-weather days are coming, so plan ahead and be prepared so you don’t miss your workouts, and be sure to add variety so you don’t get bored,” he says.
5. Create a mindfulness practice.
The winter season can be met with a lot of social obligations that can be quite overwhelming on a mental scale. To tune back into yourself when there’s so much noise going on around you, a mindfulness practice can come in handy, notes Lianna Nielsen, London-based integrative nutrition health coach. “Whether it be a meditation practice, breathwork or a journaling practice, spending even just a few minutes a day going inward can actually change your life,” she says. In fact, mindfulness meditation may actually help cut down on stress—something most of us can benefit from seeing as a whopping 3 out of 4 Americans report feeling at least one stress symptom in a single month, per the American Psychological Association.
6. Declutter your space.
In the cold weather, we tend to spend more time indoors, and with the pandemic still raging, most of us are spending more time at home than ever before. A good way to make sure you’re feeling healthy and happy in your space is to make sure it’s not too cluttered. In fact, research, including one study published in the journal Current Psychology, has shown that having too much clutter around can actually impact your quality of life and lead to higher stress levels. “Get rid of stuff that no longer brings joy, and add some new plants that brighten up your space or maybe even some artwork to add some personality,” Nielsen suggests. “When we create a healthy home environment, our home becomes a sanctuary—we will look forward to going home, it’s easier to relax there and easier to sleep.”
7. Drink more water.
Many of us know to stay hydrated during the hot and humid summer months, but we neglect to do so during the colder months. Surprisingly, however, dehydration can affect you in the winter just like in the summer. Between dry air and heaters inside to not being able to monitor sweat rates when outside, try drinking 80 to 100 ounces of water each day.
8. Eat vitamin D–rich foods
An estimated 41.6 percent of U.S. adults are deficient in vitamin D, per a study published in Nutrition Research, a nutrient that we mostly glean from sun exposure. Since we spend more time inside during the winter months, we’re unfortunately more susceptible to this deficiency. “Vitamin D plays a role in brain health, weight management, bone and heart health, and immune system function,” Axe says. While spending time in direct sunlight is certainly the best way to score vitamin D, he suggests incorporating vitamin D–rich food sources in your diet such as cod liver oil, wild-caught salmon, fortified cow’s, almond or coconut milk, morel mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, eggs and beef liver. “You can also take a good quality vitamin D supplement to reverse or avoid a deficiency if you have low levels of the vitamin,” he adds.
9. Start journaling.
The cold days and dark nights of winter can bring feelings of despair and negative thinking, warns Dr. Monisha Bhanote, integrative medicine doctor and founder and CEO of Holistic Wellbeing Collective. Luckily, journaling has been shown to help decrease mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety and can be a great health habit to start during winter. If you feel stuck getting pen to paper, Dr. Bhanote suggests considering journal prompts. “For example, consider three things that went well for you this year, three people who bring a smile to your face, three activities you would like to try next,” she says. “There is no right or wrong, simply an opportunity for you to create self-awareness about your needs and desires.”