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Staying healthy with the winter season

Submitted by Ingo Zirpins, MSPT, 1/20/2020​

Here we are, in the midst of winter. The days are short and the nights are cold and long. Rain, dampness and snow pounding, hinting us to stay inside where it is warm and comfortable. It is the biological time to listen to the quiet, to rest our weary bones, reflect, rejuvenate, go inward, meditate and dream. Winter invites personal growth. We sort out the bad seeds of the previous cycle and replenish our energy in preparation for the seasons to come. It is traditionally the time to slow down and to restore, to nourish our roots, to connect with our families and people and to eat the earthy foods that we’ve stowed away for the winter season.

Our modern lifestyles, however, continue to demand us to exert the energy of a perpetual summer, consistently upholding the demands of the daily life of quick responses, multi-tasking abilities, and never ending responsibilities, while being continuously bombarded by the overwhelming ongoing flow of frequently unpleasant and stressful information, transmitted through media, news and networking channels, day by day, year after year.

Without the restfulness of winter, one can only assume that one’s burnout is most imminent and dis-ease is commonly a reflection thereof.

Chronic stress puts your health at risk. In a natural stress response, your body releases a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of sugars and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol, however, also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.

While under a normal stress response elevated hormone levels return to normal when the stress has been resolved, a chronic stress response can lead to the continuous inhibition of vital functions, which, in the long run, can lead to many health problems, including, but not limited to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, weight gain, heart disease, sleep dysfunctions, as well as memory and concentration issues.

That is why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressor, and winter is just the perfect season to rejuvenate that part of you that works so hard throughout all the other seasons. It is believed that by harmonizing yourself with the season you can stay healthier and prevent disease.

So, what to do in the winter to keep the stress down and the body healthy?

Stay warm, they say, as your body in cold weather directs less blood supply to the extremities in order to preserve body heat in the core of the torso and the head. This reduction in blood flow means there are fewer white blood cells available to fight disease, which leads to increased susceptibility to bacterial or viral winter illnesses such as colds, flus, etc.

Eat the seasonal foods to create the energy and heat from within, while your activity level is not the same as in the summer. Nature knows and provides root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, beets, squash and garlic, that offer more carbohydrates, fiber and proteins. Grains, beans and nuts are also fresh during this season, serving as a good source of fiber, protein and essential fats.

Exercise at winter pace, by being a bit more gentle. You might enjoy activities such as stretching, Yoga, dancing, walking, gentle hiking, or even some martial arts, such as QiGong or Tai Chi, that allow you to stay in tune with your body and the pace of your system in hibernation mode. Like other animals, the human body naturally changes during winter, to create an insulin-resistant state. This helps our system to be more fuel-efficient and be able go for long periods of time with a smaller amount of food. This is a naturally occurring seasonal event in all vertebrates.

Drink plenty of water if you do not have any medical condition inhibiting you to do so. It helps you to avoid dehydration and to keep cortisol levels lower.

And lastly, spend time with your family and friends, laugh and have fun, share, reflect, co-create visions and set intentions that lead you to move into the next season of growth with a sense of rejuvenation and anticipation.

I invite you to let winter be your guide. Move better, live better!

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