10 Tweaks That Will Overhaul Your Health This Winter

Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
'Tis almost the season (of constant shivering, dealing with the crowds at the airport, protecting your desk from your co-worker who refuses to use a sick day, and struggling to find time to sleep between the endless cycle of deadlines, holiday parties, and gift shopping). This whole November/December thing is painful enough without having to worry about your health.
But, hibernating is boring, and there's no reason to stay indoors until April. So, we rounded up 10 smart, simple, and effective ways to combat common winter concerns. Here's how to save your sanity — and your health — so you can make it to spring unscathed.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
It’s cold outside, so it only makes sense to crank up the heat inside, right? Wrong. That heater and you may not be as buddy-buddy as you think. It can remove some of the moisture from the air, causing your nose to be extra-sensitive, which in turn makes it easier to break blood vessels, leading to nosebleeds. When it’s cold outside, runny noses are inevitable — so your nose is already sensitive. Plus, constant nose-blowing creates extreme trauma.

There are a few things you can do to prevent nosebleeds. First, keep your nose-blowing as delicate as possible, and try adding moisture to the air with a humidifier or vaporizer.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
The festive season means more party invites — and, therefore, more cocktails and bubbly. More sipping means you’re more prone to those throbbing, I’m-calling-in-sick-today hangovers.

Why do hangovers happen? Dehydration, low electrolyte levels, and low blood sugar create a perfect storm. It all starts when your liver breaks down the alcohol you drink into a product called acetaldehyde; this causes a great deal of irritation to the body. Since ‘tis the season for champagne, keep in mind that bubbles relax your pyloric valve, leading them to reach your small intestines faster and enter the bloodstream sooner. Translation: You feel the effects quicker.

Your hangover prevention plan: Eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates. “Eating food in general can help prevent a hangover,” says Keri Glassman, RD, nutritionist, and founder of Nutritious Life. “Complex carbohydrates and protein is a good choice because they line the stomach and neutralize the acids in alcohol. The slow digestion of fat in the liver may also help to prevent hangovers by delaying the delivery of alcohol to the bloodstream.”

Also, just because you're at a holiday party doesn't meant you have to booze it up. But, you don't have to skip the wine either — just make sure to drink plenty of water between alcoholic beverages, and avoid sugary drinks if possible.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
Feeling blah? Don’t brush it off as the “winter blues” — you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Stateside, roughly one to 10% of people experience it, depending on the region. Symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and affecting your state of mind. In new report, researchers from the University of Copenhagen looked at 11 SAD patients and 23 healthy individuals. The team found significant differences in the levels of the serotonin transporter (SERT) protein between summer to winter. The participants with SAD showed higher SERT levels during the chillier months, and that corresponded to more serotonin removal. (Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects your mood.)

Zap away your lull with light therapy — this practice mimics outdoor sunlight, which is believed to cause a chemical change in your brain that lifts your mood, according to the National Institute of Health. No, this doesn’t mean you can go hop in a tanning bed. Specific SAD lamps mimic sunlight but filter out the harmful UV rays. Before making the investment, chat with your doctor to make sure this is a good option for you. An underused method to combat mild depression? Exercise. Studies suggest that working out releases endorphins, which are feel-good neuropeptides that provide a natural "high."
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
It’s a myth that jogging outside in the winter is bad for your lungs. “Running in the cold is not at all harmful," says fitness expert and running coach Jason Karp, PhD, of Run-Fit. "Our bodies do a great job of warming and moistening cold air as soon as we breathe it in. Our lungs are also lined with surfactant, which creates a layer between the airway liquid and the inspired air, reducing the surface tension in the lungs.”

You may experience a tightness or light, burning sensation while running in the cold, but it’s just because you’re breathing air that's colder than that in your lungs — the feeling is similar to when you stick cold feet into warm water, Dr. Karp explains. Your lungs work to turn that cold air into warm, which is when you may experience burning. Don't worry; it doesn’t pose a threat to your health (other than mild discomfort).

Karp suggests wearing a scarf or bandana around your nose and mouth when running, to avoid breathing in cold air. And, invest in proper winter running attire to help regulate your body’s temperature.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
Baby, it’s cold outside. But, staying in all winter long is boring. So, get out there — but first, bundle up. While it's been shown that catching a cold because it’s cold outside is a myth, your body can still be at risk for hypothermia if you're unable to keep it warm.

To keep your body temperature up, make sure to layer. Heat escapes through exposed areas, including your hands and head. So, when the temperature dips, always wear gloves and a hat outside and keep your ears covered. Pay attention to your own body: Shivering in the cold is normal, but if you dress appropriately and start moving, you should be able to heat up. If the shivering continues, head indoors. Know the signs of hypothermia, and you'll know when to seek medical attention.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
You make sure to cover your body with enough layers during the winter — why treat your lips any differently? Dry air, low humidity, and cold wind are all key perps that dehydrate your lips, causing dreaded chapping and cracking.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, lips, unlike the rest of your skin, do not contain oil glands. So, they dry out easily. But, licking and picking them can make the problem worse, so instead cover your face with a scarf or bandana (to avoid wind exposure) and use lip balm, which seals in moisture. (Just be sure to avoid these ingredients.) Keep your lips looking soft and smooth with one of our favorite hydrating balms.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
Seasonal treats are hard to ignore — who doesn’t want to dive into mom’s famous mashed potatoes? It’s OK to indulge; we’re all human. But, high-calorie drinks, heavy dishes, and less motivation to go outside leads to a more sluggish, less-healthy you.

To prevent a month-long food coma, focus on balance — between the foods on your plate and between splurges vs. normal eating patterns. Experiment with seasonal produce to make good-for-you soups and other meals. Or, try to make healthy swaps that don't sacrifice flavor, such as subbing in mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes. It’s a similar consistency but more nutrient-rich.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
You know the pain when you feel it — the throbbing around your temples when you're faced with bright lights. Migraines and headaches aren’t just a buzzkill; they can actually interfere with your daily life.

Severe weather changes can trigger migraines in people already susceptible to them. A 2004 study from the New England Center for Headache found that 62% of migraine sufferers believed that weather was a headache trigger for them. (When headache history was matched up to weather data, however, researchers found that only 51% of the patients had actual weather sensitivity — but that's still a substantial percentage.)

So, what can you do? Keep a journal: what the weather is like, what foods you ate, your activities, stress level, and sleep. See what patterns create migraines. If you notice humidity is a trigger, consider a dehumidifier to keep your environment dry during damp or humid weather. Make sure to keep a regular sleep schedule, as lack of sleep is a major migraine trigger. Exercise, healthy eating habits, and limiting your alcohol intake can also help.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
You can catch the flu or cold any time of year, but winter does see an uptick in susceptibility. So, keep in mind all of those healthy habits your grade-school teacher taught you — including washing your hands with warm water and soap.

If you haven’t already, get a flu shot. And, if you feel like you have a cold coming on, drink water and nag your roommate/partner/mom to make you some chicken soup.

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne, has been used for centuries to help with circulation and digestive problems. And, it may help reduce flu- and cold-like symptoms (not the cold itself). A 2011 study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that subjects with nonallergic rhinitis that used a capsaicin nasal spray over a period of two weeks had less congestion.
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Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
We know you know this: Sleep is when your body is able to rest and recover for the next day. Without sleep, your body cannot function well. In the winter, sleep patterns get thrown off due to a myriad of factors, from colder air to less light to holiday parties to stress.

The average person needs 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep. But, 63% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep, according to The Sleep Foundation. One culprit that messes with your slumber is your diet. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical found that the foods we eat in the winter have an impact on sleep patterns. In summertime, people are more prone to reach for lighter foods and fruits/veggies that boosts energy and hormone levels. In the winter, people tend to reach for heavy, carbohydrate-dense food, which lowers energy levels, moods, and hormones. Here are other ways your diet can affect your sleep.

If all else fails, power down your cellphone, people.
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