Your Health

Winterize yourself

Your guide to a happy, healthy winter

Your guide to a happy, healthy winter

BY MARTIN ZEILIG
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2009

Even when it is slow in arriving, winter in Winnipeg can be intimidating.

The biting winds, driving snow, sub-zero temperatures - it's all enough to send a shiver down the spine of even the heartiest souls. Some of us while away the winter months watching television or playing computer games, effectively becoming couch potatoes. Others seek refuge in winter getaways, taking a few weeks off to lay on a beach somewhere tropical and warm.

But there is another way to deal with winter, says Laurie McPherson, a mental health promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Health Region: Enjoy it.

"Embrace the winter, because if we go into something with dread, it won't be an enjoyable experience," says McPherson. In other words, adapt. "Get a positive mindset that you'll make the best of it."

Of course, if you are going to take on winter, you will need some help. With that in mind, the next three pages contain some tips on how to winterize yourself in order to take better advantage of the season ahead.

Embrace the Great Outdoors

The arrival of winter tends to send many people into hibernation. That's unfortunate because outdoor exercise plays an important role in maintaining one's physical health and overall well-being, and winter offers a multitude of opportunities for fun-filled activities.

Skating, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, downhill skiing - these are just some of the exciting activities available during winter. Even going for a walk can be enjoyable.

The health benefits of a good winter workout are undeniable. For example, a person who goes for an hour-long skate on the Assiniboine River Trail (world's longest natural ice skating trail) will receive all the cardiovascular benefits of an aerobic workout without the wear and tear on the body that comes from similar activities, such as running. The same can be said of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. And what could be better for mind and body than a brisk winter stroll.

A word of caution: don't overdo it on your first time out this winter. Set realistic goals for activity and pace yourself. And, of course, remember to dress warmly by layering your clothing.

Stay Connected

It's not uncommon for individuals to feel a little blue during the winter - and not just because they have spent too much time in -30 C weather.

"People in general find that the short days can have an effect on their mood," says Dr. Michael Eleff, a psychiatrist with the Winnipeg Health Region.

One condition often associated with the winter months is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). A mild form of SAD, often referred to as the "winter blues," can also be a problem for some. Research in Ontario suggests that between two per cent and three per cent of Canadians may have SAD, while another 15 per cent may suffer from "winter blues," according to the Canadian Mental Health Association website.

"One thing people ought to do to winterize themselves is to pay attention to their own moods and those of people they care about," says Eleff. He also cautions people to "protect themselves" from the tendency to become isolated and locked-in during winter, a condition known as "cabin fever."

McPherson says people can winterize themselves by focusing on things they can control and building resiliency. For example, try breaking up the routine of the day by going for a walk. "You're benefitting from the sun and fresh air and maximizing your outdoor experience. You can enhance your work space by adding photographs, or paintings and flowers - little things that are reminders of spring and summer.

It's also important to remain engaged in the world around you. "Make sure you have something to look forward to every day, like having coffee with a friend, or reading a favourite book or magazine.

You can also improve your mood by taking up a hobby or going out with friends to a movie or one of the many cutural events taking place in the city. "Doing something to maintain a more positive outlook is vital during winter."

Eat Healthy

Can a healthy diet make winter a little easier to weather?

The answer, according to many health experts, is yes.

Generally speaking, the number of people who become sick with colds and influenza goes up as the mercury goes down. One way to winterize your body against these maladies is to eat a healthy diet, according to Cheryl Ogaranko, a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region. This will help ensure you get the vitamins and minerals you need to strengthen your immune system and ward off winter viruses.

"No matter what the season, you should still follow Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide," says Ogaranko.

It's also important to monitor your intake of vitamin D. Dubbed the "sunshine vitamin" because it is derived naturally from the sun's rays, vitamin D is important because it helps the body absorb calcium and build bones. However, the shorter days of winter mean less sunlight and a reduction in our vitamin D levels. As a result, some people, especially those over 50, may have to boost their vitamin D intake.

Good dietary sources of vitamin D include milk, fortified soy beverages and certain types of fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines. Health experts recommend taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter, but check with a physician before taking any supplement.

Health Canada recommends that in addition to the 200 IU of vitamin D one would expect to consume daily by following Eating Well With Canada's Food Guide, everyone over the age of 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU.

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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