Staying Physically and Emotionally Well in Winter
Think about the ways you enjoy staying physically and emotionally healthy.
Is it walking outside? Cooking nutritious meals with your family? Attending workout classes? Or perhaps you haven’t found your sweet spot yet when it comes to staying healthy with MS.
As we head into the winter months, it’s important to consider how the changes to the outside environment may impact these activities and your personal wellbeing.
How Winter Affects Your Emotions
Some people may experience a seasonal dip in their mood during the fall and winter months, often referred to as the ‘winter blues.’ While generally mild and brief, these feelings of sadness, low mood, or irritability can negatively interfere with your life. The winter blues can creep into your relationships, work/school responsibilities, and motivation to stay active.
More serious and debilitating mood changes can include a medical diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In addition to depressed mood, SAD may include loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, fatigue, weight changes, negative feelings about oneself, concentration problems, or thoughts of self-harm.
To help you prepare for the lows of winter, take a moment to think about your unique warning signs. These are behaviors or feelings that signal you’re having negative mood changes that deserve attention.
Here are a few examples of warning signs:
You begin declining offers for social activities with friends or family
You are spending extra time in bed (either sleeping too much or too little)
You notice extra fatigues
Your friends and family point out changes in your behavior
Be sure to talk with your healthcare team if mood changes appear to persist or interfere with daily life.
How You Can Beat the Winter Blues
One powerful tool for boosting your mood during the colder months is engaging in meaningful and enjoyable activities.
If you dislike the cold, you may need to get a little creative with indoor activities. A few favorites? Singing, dancing, puzzles, art, yoga, or trying new recipes.
If you dislike the heat, then grab an extra layer and head outside! The winter air can be invigorating and refreshing. The exposure to sunlight is rejuvenating for your spirit, helps regulate your body’s internal clock, and helps maintain critically important vitamin D levels.
Another important way to stay mentally engaged and reduce risk for mood changes is keeping up with your social activities, either in-person or virtual. Can Do MS programs are a great place to start if you don’t have many social connections!
How You Can Find the Right Winter Exercise Routine
Exercising or intentionally moving the body helps improve all organ systems, even brain health. So important to find enjoyable and sustainable ways to stay active in the winter, even when you just want to stay snuggled up on the couch.
Small amounts of exercise, or exercise snacks, can be done easily at home (especially if the temperature outside is too cold). These can be just as beneficial as spending a continuous hour engaged in one activity or exercise. Pacing yourself with exercise through short bursts can also help to lessen fatigue associated with exercise regimens.
How You Can Eat Healthy in Winter
Diet and adequate nutritional intake is another component to staying healthy in the winter and potentially warding off infections.
While it can be easier to find affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in summer months, you can transition into seasonally available produce any time of year. It’s a great way to provide good nutrition and help your wallet! Some winter produce includes citrus, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squashes, spinach, cabbage, and other dark, leafy greens. Supplement these with year-round options like bananas, apples, carrots, and potatoes. Then remember that the frozen section hosts a great selection of healthy produce that can be turned into stir fries, fruit smoothies, or homemade soups. If you turn to the canned foods aisle, note that these fruits and vegetables can be healthy, but be sure to stay clear of ones packed in salt, syrup, or extra sugars.
If you’re looking to try a new style of eating this winter, you can consider the Mediterranean diet. Although there is no official “MS diet,” health experts generally recommend the Mediterranean diet as the most balanced and healthy for those living with MS.
How Else Can You Stay Healthy This Winter?
Finally, vaccinations are vitally important to staying healthy during winter months. It is recommended that people living with MS get vaccinated against COVID-19 as well as the flu. Talk with your neurology team about questions you may have or timing of vaccines with your disease modifying therapy.
As we head into the winter, remember that maintaining a consistent schedule with nutritious meals, exercise, social engagement, and sleep is important to overall health.