8 Tips to Staying Healthy This Winter

It may go without saying, but the shifting of the seasons certainly has its effects on us, even in "sunny" California. Here in San Francisco the air is crisp and the sunlight is soft, setting earlier each day, bit by bit, as we move towards winter solstice. And, soon I'll be bundled up with plenty of layers ( anyone else have yoga pants under their jeans?). During the holidays the city empty outs, leaving a magically peaceful and quiet space - it's one of Mo's and my favorite times to take long city walks. 

When I was studying macrobiotics on the east coast, I learned a lot about seasonal shifts and how it tugs at our internal/external balance; the ebb and flow, if you will. In macrobiotics, winter is represented by water, which I feel is very fitting. Water represents a calmness, darkness, of contemplation, and somehow a stillness (or perhaps mysteriousness) with a sense of purpose. So, when I think about winter - it's all about calming down, deep contemplation (new years resolution, anyone?), an inward energy that is ushering us inside (be it physical or mental) and encouraging all things cozy. We crave saltier, longer cooked meals that are rich and grounding. We consume warmer drinks and the idea of curling up to a good book next to a fire never sounded better. 

Though this time is all about "coziness," we may find ourselves caught in a cycle of winter's not-so-awesome side: holiday party overload (aka too many spiked eggnogs and pumpkin pie slices), getting sick, all of which may or may not result in the winter blues. I guess this explains the eagerness we feel in January to get healthy - But, it doesn't have to be that way - we can stay healthy and happy throughout the winter so we feel energized in the new year; ready to go rather than feeling like we have to overload on the gym or do some extreme cleanse.

The tips below are to encourage one to embrace winter's mood wholeheartedly, to listen to inner desires to contemplate, stay nourished, and stay grounded. 


Winter is all about:

being warm & cozy

allowing yourself to relax

spending more time indoors

food and drinks that warm the body

a time of inward contemplation and planning 


1. Opt For Food And Drinks That Warm The Body

Be it longer cooking methods or the heavy use of spices, winter time is all about warming up the body. If summer is all about eating fresh, raw foods, than winter is all about cooked! Opt for soups, stews, cooked vegetables... and, ahem, this pumpkin hot chocolate anyone? 

I tend to also keep a thermos on me this time of year to warm me up while I'm out and about. 

Some simple warming dishes:

  • Roasted vegetables sprinkled with sea salt and cinnamon
  • Nabe pot (slow and long cooked vegetables in a ceramic pot with a touch of water), read more about it on Bon Appetit
  • Slow cooked meats (roasts, osso bucco, this slow cooked lamb shank recipe)
  • Spiced raw hot chocolate
  • Delicious and simple creamy chai tea at home

2. Stay Healthy With Immune Boosting Foods

BONE BROTH - rich in highly digestible minerals and fats, bone broth is perfect for maintaining a healthy immune system. Beyond that, it's key in keeping our gut happy! 80% of our immune system resides in the gut! (Dr. Mercola). So during a season like winter, it's important to keep our gut happy and healthy so it can protects us against any potential colds or flus. If you're in the San Francisco bay area, Broth Baby is a fabulous option!

ELDERBERRY - has been used for centuries to help heal the body from colds and chest congestion, to improving vision and heart health. What an amazing plant! It's a rich antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-viral - giving the body a boost, especially the immune system. 

I was first introduced by this plant by Bonnie Rose from 1849 Medicine Garden and she offered a simple concoction! Simmer 1 cup of elderberries with 3 cups water for about 45 minutes or when the liquid reduces to half, strain into glass container and mix in 1 cup of honey. Keep the fridge and drink 1 tbsp a day in beverage of choice, or drink multiple times a day if sick. 

GINGER & TURMERIC - both are highly antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and have disinfecting properties. Ginger in particular helps to breakdown toxins in the organ and clean the lymphatic system. These plants help support optimal gut health, supporting the immune system that way as well.

VITAMIN C rich foods -  Vitamin C is key boosting our immune system, it's an antioxidant, and actually helps to re-charge other antioxidants in the body like vitamin E. More than that, vitamin C is key in helping to replenish collagen, especially the skin, hair, and nails, which tend to dry out over the winter. Seasonal produce that's high in vitamin C are kiwis, all citrus, dark leafy greens (especially when eaten fresh), brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, ginger and turmeric. 

WINTER GREENS -  Not only packed with vitamin C, winter greens are loaded with other minerals and vitamins that keep the body happy and nourished. Just to highlight one of the many nutrients, these greens are high in magnesium which is important for bone health, heart health, promotes optimal sleeping patterns, and is key in relaxation (both mental and muscular). 

Quick Cold Busting Tea Recipe:

Photo: Anda Ambrosini via unsplash

Photo: Anda Ambrosini via unsplash

  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp raw local honey, or to taste
  • 1/2" fresh ginger root, roughly chopped, or 1/2 tsp powder
  • 3 whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced

Directions: Place 2 cups of water in a sauce pan along with the ginger and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, turn off and strain into 1 big mug or two smaller ones, mix in the remaining ingredients. Drink immediately, occasionally stirring. This is a great drink to add the elderberry syrup into!


3. Drink Ample Amount Of Water

The winter can have a drying affect on the body and skin, so drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated! Drink warm herbal teas and flavored water to keep things interesting. 

If you're unsure how much water you should be drinking, half your weight and switch to ounces, so if you're 120 lb, you'll want to drink about 60 oz of water (but, everyone is different, so see what amount you need). Remember, soups and other liquids count towards this daily intake BUT caffeine doesn't count since it dehydrates the body!


4. Plan your meals and keep healthy snacks with you! 

Winter is a season of all things rich & decadent. So! It's important to keep yourself well fed (with the healthy foods) so you don't get tempted by the cookie plate at your next work affair. Help yourself to stay on tract by making sure you don't go too long without a meal or snack.

5. Get Your Rest

As the days get shorter and nights get longer, we are naturally encouraged to follow suit. This is because the sun has an subtle yet important impact on our circadian rhythm (body clock). Don't resist! Allow yourself to sleep a little longer, even if it's for 15 minutes longer. 

Beyond the bed, allow yourself to rest more than usual. Take baths, read books, go on walks... do things that are calming for you. The winter is a perfect time to restore and rejuvenate.

6. Keep the body moving! 

Although winter time is a time of inward reflection, retreating to one's home for days of hibernation, may make some feel isolated and mildly depressed - a feeling of stagnation. It's important to keep exercising for so many reasons, but mood is a big one. Exercising just 20 minutes a day can boost mood and reduce stress. Exercise also supports optimal immune function, hormone balance, and heart health. One caveat is though exercise is encouraged, winter is about being more mellow, so it's a perfect time to try out less extreme forms, like restorative or yin yoga, long walks, and other low impact activities.

7. Spend time in nature

So many benefits to this one, no matter the time of year. You soak up vitamin D (vital for optimal health), connect with mother earth, have space to reflect and be quiet, and it's an effective way to restore and rejuvenate the mind and body. Check out this article on Business Insider to learn more. The bottom line is that nature is vital to our internal/ external balance and overall health. 

8. Spend time on reflecting

There is no greater question in our human life than "what is my purpose?" Make sure to spend time this winter reflecting, bringing clarity to your own purpose, and gaining the inspiration to take action when the new year comes. I personally love to journal, but we each have our own ways to contemplate and reflect.


Dr. Mercola, on the winter blues: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/03/10/5-tips-to-conquer-your-winter-blues-now.aspx

Dr. Mercola, benefits of bone broth: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/12/16/bone-broth-benefits.aspx

Dr. Axe, benefits of ginger: https://draxe.com/10-medicinal-ginger-health-benefits/

Herbal Wisdom article on turmeric: http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-turmeric.html

Herbal Wisdom article on elderberry: http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-elderberry.html

Elderberry Recipe adapted from: http://realfoodrn.com/homemade-elderberry-syrup/

Rachael GorjestaniComment