The cool-weather months often bring anticipation of beloved seasonal activities — bundling up in sweaters to see fall foliage, being cozy by the fire, gathering with friends and family to eat and drink, skipping the gym, getting a guilt attack after putting away too much holiday fudge…
Yes, often there’s a thin line between a holiday tradition and a holiday trap. That’s why The Remedy consulted some of the country’s top experts to help us identify the most common ways we undermine our health and fitness when the weather gets colder, and the healthy things to do instead (while still enjoying the seasons to the fullest).
“Just because the weather is feeling cooler and the days are getting shorter, don’t be misled that you are safe from the sun,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California. “UV rays are always present and can pass through clouds, car and office windows and reflect off of water, pavement, snow and ice. They cause direct skin damage and secondary oxidative damage that lead to skin cancers, melanoma, skin dyspigmentation, and premature skin aging, including wrinkles.”
The Remedy Rx: Chose a broad spectrum sunscreen (which covers both UVA and UVB) with SPF 30+ and apply it daily to all sun-exposed skin, including face, ears, neck and hands, says Shainhouse.
“Don’t use cold or bad weather as an excuse not to work out or leave the house,” says Joe Ferraro, founding trainer with Rumble Boxing in New York City. “Guess what? A lot of people feel the same way. Get up and get out — you’ll feel better. Plus, there will be fewer people at the gym, so you won’t have to wait for the squat rack.”
“You should keep the same routine year-round,” says Jason Kozma, a certified personal trainer in Los Angeles. “It’s the consistency that matters. Being fit — and looking it — is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
The Remedy Rx: Stay active indoors. It can be something as simple as keeping your tennis shoes in your car, going to an indoor mall and walking as much as you can, challenging yourself to gradually increase your steps, says Karen Cohen, CN, a certified nutritionist in Los Angeles. You can also use fitness videos or take online exercise classes. “Set progress goals every month — they can be weight-, appearance-, or performance-related,” says Kozma.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says everyone over age 6 months should get an annual flu vaccine, and people over 50 are a priority group. Have you gotten yours this year?
The Remedy Rx: Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against the flu. Ask if you’re due for any other recommended vaccines, including those for pneumonia, whooping cough and shingles.
“The amount of water you drink is directly coordinated to helping your body function at its best, and this is especially true for helping weight loss. When your body becomes dehydrated, it slows down your metabolism, and dehydration can lead to many injuries,” says Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center. “When it gets cold outside, keep drinking plenty of water to help prevent injuries and weight gain.”
The Remedy Rx: “Keeping the body fully hydrated is essential for normal organ function, and your body needs water through the foods that you eat, as well as through eight glasses of water per day. ”
When temperatures dip, staying indoors all day is easy to do. But it isn’t the best thing for your health. Exposure to sunlight is necessary for the body’s production of Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” that’s been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. And natural sunlight also affects the production of serotonin, the body’s natural mood booster; low levels are thought to contribute to depression.
The Remedy Rx: “Find activities you can do outside in the colder weather,” says Morgan Rees, ACE, a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist in Los Angeles. “Try ice skating, snowboarding, skiing, walking indoors at the mall, play indoor sports with your kids, building snowmen or ice castles with friends and/or family.”
“Get in on fall and winter produce,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and consultant with RSP Nutrition. “Seasonal produce is more flavorful — and cheaper. And spicing up your usual intake of fruits and veggies with different options enhances your access to unique vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.”
The Remedy Rx: “Try squash, pumpkin — spice lattes don’t count — chard, parsnips, pears, and persimmons,” says Moreno.
Many of those special fall-themed coffee drinks are packed with added sugar, calorie-laden cream and chemical flavorings. Avoid them. “A pumpkin-spice latte or apple-spice concoction can have more sugar than a large candy bar, not to mention additives you wouldn’t find in something you make at home,” says Moreno.
The Remedy Rx: Make your own healthy at-home coffee drinks and harness the anti-inflammatory power of spices. “Use pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, turmeric and black pepper, any steamed organic milk or unsweetened nut milk, and a touch of honey,” says Moreno. “If you have a milk frother, that’s ideal, but a blender also works to achieve the same store-bought creaminess.”
“It all starts at Halloween: Candy, sugary treats, desserts, drinks. It’s hard to restrain yourself because it’s everywhere,” says Kozma. “Holiday parties are a weekly occurrence, and a candy binge on Halloween leads to, ‘Oh well, it’s almost Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, so I might as well treat myself and start anew in the New Year.’”
The Remedy Rx: “The fact is, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just three days,” says Kozma. “Even if you fully indulge on those days, there’s no reason to allow that to affect an entire three-month period. Don’t throw away an entire quarter of a year because of three days.”
Kozma recommends that his clients who can’t stop binging on sweets have a “naked breakfast.” “Stand naked in front of your full length mirror every morning, and take in the reality,” says Kozma. “If you need to, take a mirror selfie — maybe put on some shorts — and refer to it a couple of times a day to keep you on track with what you eat, and your exercise.”
Winter is the season of hot toddies, egg nog, champagne and booze and booze and more booze. It can be easy to lose track of how much you’re imbibing — especially because many Americans are heavier drinkers than we realize.
The Remedy Rx: For good health — and to lower your risk of heart disease and cancer — drink alcohol in moderation. Experts define “moderate drinking” as no more than two drinks per day for men, and just one for women.
“The summer months are known to be the ideal time to stock your body up on fresh food and nutrients, but once the weather gets colder, suddenly you’re craving heavy, hot meals and carb-loaded sustenance,” says Caleb Backe, a health expert with Maple Holistics. Often, that’s not healthy — consider the typical “comfort food” of mashed potatoes, creamy pastas, cake and french fries.
The Remedy Rx: Substitute warm, lean, protein-rich meals for cheesy, carb-laden creations. “Instead of satisfying yourself with unhealthy but easily accessible comfort foods, turn to meals like soup or chickpea curry to nourish and warm your body the healthy way,” says Backe. “Make the most of seasonal foods to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.”
Meal prepping — or just creating a good, thorough grocery list — can cut down on improvisational snacking and ordering takeout. “Planning your meals will prepare you for the cold months ahead,” says Cohen. “Don’t stop eating well just because it’s cold outside and you can wear big sweaters and coats.”
The Remedy Rx: “Think about making soups and stews with lots of vegetables and protein of your choice; they are hearty and filling,” suggests Cohen. “Make turkey or beef chili; or chicken, tofu or beef stir-frys; or baked apples and pears instead of pies or cookies. Buy a canister of protein powder to have on hand to make smoothies, and keep bags of brown rice, fruits and veggies in your freezer.”
“When winter comes, it’s easy to get bored at home and eat,” says Cohen. “This contributes to people feeling horrible about themselves and a downward spiral.”
The Remedy Rx: “Ask yourself, ‘Am I bored or hungry?’” says Cohen. “If the answer is bored, call a friend, take a bath, listen to your favorite music, clean out your closets, or go on the internet and search for something [to do] on your bucket list.”
The winter blues are a real thing, and potentially dangerous. “Many people have a mood change for the worse when the days become shorter. If you feel seasonally down, irritable, tired or slow, try light,” says Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “It’s odd to people to think light could do something to your brain, but it does. You need the right type of light, and then daily use, but it can change your entire state of well-being during the fall and winter months.”
The Remedy Rx: Light boxes (also known as SAD lamps) are available in many models and price points online. Talk to your doctor about any season-related emotional changes you’re feeling, and if light-box therapy might be right for you.
According to Harvard Medical School, about 100 men die of heart attacks each year shortly after shoveling snow. If you have heart issues, it might be wise to avoid it. “You should not shovel your driveway if you have a cardiac history and symptoms of angina,” says Adam Splaver, MD, a cardiologist in Hollywood, Florida.
It might feel good to burrow under the covers on cold mornings, but it’s best not to let oversleeping become a habit. Maintaining a consistent wakeup and bedtime schedule will keep your circadian rhythms stable. Researchers have found that can benefit everything from your immune system to digestion, concentration, productivity, and emotional stability.
“When it’s cold, blood flow is concentrated in your body’s core, leaving your head, hands and feet vulnerable to frostbite,” says Harvard Medical School. So remember what mom said: Bundle up.
The Remedy Rx: Thankfully, the experts at Harvard have that bundling down to a science: “Wear a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material (such as polypropylene) under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece,” they advise. “Put on the mittens or gloves before your hands become cold and then remove the outer pair when your hands get sweaty. Consider buying exercise shoes a half size or one size larger than usual to allow for thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks.” Don’t forget your hat.
“Don’t ignore the benefits of being outside in fall,” says Moreno. “A time-honored fall activity is picking apples or other fall fruits. It’s a chance to connect with the earth and the process that delivers the fruits, instead of the sterile grocery; an opportunity to increase social stimulation; and therapeutically relax with friends/family by gleaning all the benefits of being outdoors. Plus, you support a local economy and you’ll then be inspired to actually eat and cook with all the produce you ‘harvested.’”
The Remedy Rx: Pick some apples — and enjoy them as snacks, in smoothies or sliced into protein-rich salads. They contain natural phytochemicals that may guard against cancer and help with weight loss.
Just like those deceptive fall-themed coffee drinks, hot chocolate is everywhere when the weather gets colder, and it can pack a ton of added sugar — one envelope of powdered hot chocolate can have 25 grams of added sugars, as much as half a can of Coke.
The Remedy Rx: Always check Nutrition Facts labels, and choose hot chocolate that’s low-sugar or sugar-free.
Exercising outdoors in the cooler months comes with risks — particularly, reduced daylight means it’s more likely that drivers will have difficulty seeing you if you’re sharing the road when running, walking or cycling.
The Remedy Rx: “Wear reflective outer layers if you are walking outdoors at night,” says Rees.
During colder weather, reduced sunlight makes it harder for our bodies to naturally produce Vitamin D. And many Americans are deficient in the vitamin even during the height of summer. It might be time to get your levels checked: Having an adequate Vitamin D level has been linked to a reduced risk of many forms of cancer.
The Remedy Rx: Ask your doctor for a blood test to assess your Vitamin D level, and follow their advice if the results come back low. “Some people could benefit from taking an extra vitamin D pill during the week, if recommended by your doctor,” says Rees.
“Colder months are typically the most dry,” says Rees. “Make sure you keep your body moisturized throughout the day.” Cold and wind can chap exposed areas, and dry indoor air can compound the problem. Regular moisturizing can prevent you from developing itchy, annoying dermatitis on common areas like hands or elbows, which can become painful and infected.
The Remedy Rx: Choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer and apply it after your morning shower, and whenever you’re feeling dry.
“Even when you are home during bad weather, take a shower, get dressed. Men, shave. Women: put on a little makeup,” says Cohen. “This will help you emotionally. It’s all about feeling good about yourself.”
It’s a bit counterintuitive, but you don’t want to bundle up too heavily when exercising outdoors when the weather gets colder. Exercise generates heat, which can make you think it’s warmer outside than it actually is. That can make your workout less efficient — and increase your risk of hypothermia or frostbite as sweaty skin is exposed to cold air.
The Remedy Rx: “Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed,” advises Harvard Medical School. “First, put on a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin.”
“Don’t let the upcoming holiday season be your reason to ‘let it all go’,” says Ferraro. “Use the holidays as a challenge instead.”
The Remedy Rx: “Exercise super-hard for a few weeks before the big day, like you’re training for the big fight, then indulge,” he says. “TREAT YO SELF.”
“On the flip side, the cold weather brings a lot of bugs, colds and sicknesses,” says Ferraro. “Listen to your body.”
The Remedy Rx: “If you need to rest, rest,” says Ferraro. “Then get back after it when you’re feeling 100 percent.”
The holiday season can bring a seemingly endless list of things to do (and we hope ours is more helpful than anxiety-inducing). It may seem efficient to swallow your stress to deal with later; in the meantime, that can impair your health and relationships.
The Remedy Rx: Make a list. Not of everyone who’s been naughty or nice, but of the ever-growing number of tasks the holiday season brings. Seeing it in black-and-white makes things seem more manageable, and “having a lot to do creates a healthy sense of pressure to achieve more focus,” says Don Wetmore, founder of the Productivity Institute. He suggests you should “overplan” your day by 50 percent. “A project tends to expand with the time allocated to it,” he says. “Give yourself one thing to do, and it’ll take all day. But give yourself 12 things, and you’ll get nine done.”
Just as it’s easy to get anxious or stressed during the holiday season, it’s also a time when feelings of loneliness can hit. That’s a health risk. Loneliness and social isolation can increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack, according to a study published in the journal Heart. People who reported poor social relationships had a 29 percent higher risk of heart disease than those with solid friendships.
The Remedy Rx: Researchers believe loneliness increases chronic stress, a risk factor for heart disease. Consider socializing a crucial element of your daily routine—maintain connections and join regular group activities.
“Washing your hands frequently, and well, is one of the best ways to avoid sickness and spreading germs to others,” says Dena Nader, MD, regional medical director of MedExpress based in Washington, Pennsylvania. “But we often forget those other surfaces we touch all the time—our phones, steering wheels, doorknobs, faucets, remotes—also harbor bacteria that can make us sick.”
The Remedy Rx: “I typically recommend to my patients that at least once a week, and more during cold and flu season, they wipe down these frequently touched but easily overlooked surfaces with antibacterial wipes to help slow the spread of germs,” says Nader.
In the cooler months, it might be tempting to cut back on sleep in favor of holiday-related socializing, or staying cozy on the couch, letting that Netflix binge run just a little longer. But getting adequate amounts of sleep will keep your immune system strong and help you deal with holiday stress.
The Remedy Rx: “In order to have optimal mental health, one must get 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night,” says John Chuback, MD, a board-certified cardiovascular surgeon. “If not, you’ll almost certainly see an adverse impact on your psyche, emotions, and body.”
Just as you don’t want to cut back on sleep so you can finally finish another season of something on Hulu, you don’t want to slumber too long: Oversleeping (10 hours per night or more) has been associated with dementia.
The Remedy Rx: The American Sleep Foundation says that adults of every age should get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night — no more, no less. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 40 Things Doctors Do to Live Longer.