Many of us dread winter. Historically, we reserve some of our most important holidays for the season and it’s no wonder. Unrelieved cold can feel isolating and dreary. The slushy commutes, icy drive ways and gray skies can make our routines seem a bit more tedious. Some struggle with seasonal affective disorders, which impact mental health. Others retreat inwards and avoid the sorts of physical exercise that would counterbalance the dreary days. And this doesn’t begin to cover the stress of living in the COVID age.
And then, there are some annoyingly chipper people who seem to like the winter, beyond holiday lights and egg nog. These are the early risers, the glass half-full types, the optimists. For them, Merrimack Valley winters are a playground. Warm fireplaces, cross-country skis, hot chocolate, holiday feasts. Such folks are on to something, according to science. According to the Mayo Clinic, evidence suggests that positive thinkers might live longer, be less depressed, and even have greater resistance to the common cold.
Aside from adopting a positive outlook, there are steps we can take to make the winter season into a source of health and wellness. Try these:
1. Take Vitamin D. My own doctor often reminds me to make sure to take vitamin D in winter, when you can no longer get it from sun exposure. There’s been a flood of research lately into its relationship with the immune system, as people search for ways to minimize the effects of COVID. Results so far have been promising, but inconclusive. Vitamin D also seems to positively affect the gut biome. And it may — emphasis on the word may — help with seasonal affective disorder. Magic bullet? Probably not. But it’s a good place to start. Take it with meals.
2. There are many great ways to exercise in winter that are also socially distanced. Think Nordic: cross-country skiing, or Native American: snow shoeing. Fat biking is a great way to get outside and get the blood going. If you’re on a budget, or simply prefer to keep it minimal, a simple pair of boots is enough for many local trails. Bring along some traction cleats such as Yaktrax and you’re all set for most days.
3. Study Wim Hof. In health and wellness circles, this was the year of Wim Hof. His social media presence exploded. His book came out and became a New York Times bestseller. Justin Bieber extolled his virtues on The Ellen Show. Seemingly crazy Dutch extreme athlete Hof is known for breaking cold-related Guinness Book records by using a combination of gradual cold adaptation, breathing techniques and mental focus. A look at the science behind his method is startling and has implications for immunity, longevity, and maybe even success in business. You could learn his method by downloading an app, or, as he himself states, you could learn it just by watching free videos on YouTube. Using his method, you learn that the cold isn’t necessary something to be feared, but to embraced for its health benefits. Just make sure you do it safely, please. Hypothermia and frostbite are serious concerns.
Remember: if all else fails, there’s always coffee.