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    HomeHealthTips for a healthier winter: Snowga, potlucks, flu shot and more

    Tips for a healthier winter: Snowga, potlucks, flu shot and more

    The days are getting colder and shorter, and the deadline for New Year’s resolutions is approaching.

    In other words, it’s a more-than-appropriate time to focus on ways to stay healthy this winter.

    We polled experts to assemble the following winter health tips — some conventional, some not — which range from choosing the right lip balm to trying yoga — in the snow.

    1. Be kind to your kisser. Lips dry out in winter. They’re the thinnest skin on your body, with few oil glands to provide natural moisture. Lip balms can help, but you need to choose wisely. Some products contain ingredients, such as salicylic acid, that can make your lips drier, pushing you into a vicious cycle.

    Pick petroleum-based balms (even good old Vaseline) with the fewest ingredients.

    “For those who prefer to avoid petroleum, I love the ones with beeswax and shea butter,” says Sarvenaz Zand, a dermatologist in Mill Valley, Calif. While it’s smart to use lip balms with sunscreen in summer, you may want to skip that in the winter, as it can irritate sensitive lips, she says.

    “Remember to use your lip balm twice a day,” Zand adds. For seriously chapped lips, she suggests trying an ointment with hydrocortisone, available over-the-counter.

    2. Plan more potlucks. With the coronavirus lingering in the air and end-of-year tasks to attend to, you can find excuses to isolate, but your heart and brain will benefit if you resist. You can also strike a blow against the loneliness epidemic threatening American health.

    If you’re virus-shy, find a park with a fire pit and reserve time on a Sunday afternoon. If you’re more ambitious, start a book club so you make gatherings routine. Offer friends gentle advice about what they might bring, and don’t forget the friends who may be under the weather with holiday blues — especially if they’re adolescents. “The data is still showing increased depression and anxiety in that age group,” says psychologist Tamar Mendelson, director of the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    Altruism won’t just help your targets; a growing body of research suggests it can make you happier and maybe even healthier as well. “It can even be a really little thing, like sending an extra email or making a phone call to check in,” says Mendelson. “It’s all helpful.”

    3. Sample snowga. Yep, that’s yoga in the snow, and while it’s clearly not for everyone, it’s a novel route to fight the tendency to veg in cold weather. Study after study has shown that people move more in warmer months and become more sedentary in the winter, but your body and mood will benefit from fresh air and exercise, whether it’s a walk in the winter air or … snowga. Its devotees include Gywneth Paltrow.

    You don’t want to do this barefoot. Skip the thin leggings for your full snow regalia, with gloves, scarves and boots. Yoga instructors warn this isn’t a time to test your limits, since your body becomes more brittle in cold weather. Be sure to include some indoor stretching afterward.

    4. Groom the dog. Furry pets are dust magnets. In the winter, they may also track in snow and mud. Veterinarians recommend you wash your dog at least once a month. You may also want to leave a thick towel at the doorway to remember to clean paws.

    While you’re at it, this is the time to do a dust inventory of your home to help avoid the risk of indoor allergies and asthma. Indoor dust gets worse in the winter, when we keep the windows closed. Is it time to change your HVAC filters? The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends that you also protect your bedding from dust mites by washing sheets, blankets and pillowcases in hot water once a week and if necessary using special mite-proof zippered cases for pillows.

    5. Enjoy a mindful mug. If you want to go full-tilt hygge, cocoon your way into a pair of flannel PJs and slippers and settle down for a hot-chocolate meditation. So much is hard about winter, but for 20 minutes and minimal cash outlay, you can stop and smell the cacao, while reminding yourself to stay hydrated.

    Breathe in deeply through your nose while you smell the hot chocolate; breathe out through your mouth to cool it, then focus on where on your taste buds the chocolate is landing. (Peppermint tea or a hearty bowl of soup also work.) If slurping doesn’t appeal, mindfulness teachers say you can get some benefits simply by imagining drinking that hot beverage.

    While we’re on the subject of hydration, be sure to drink enough water: The American Heart Association recommends that women drink eight eight-ounce glasses daily and men 12 eight-ounce glasses.

    In addition, a humidifier can help your skin and respiratory system when the air is drier, according to the Mayo Clinic. Just don’t forget that the gizmo needs maintenance, including cleaning every three days, to avoid mold and bacteria.

    6. Ward off germs. Get your flu shot. Flu season peaks from December to February, so it’s about time. While you’re at it, remember to wash your hands to avoid contagion. For those who need a refresher, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a handy online demonstration on best practices. Remember, of course, to apply moisturizer after you wash. Dry, cracked skin makes it easier for germs to get inside your body, the American Academy of Dermatology Association says.

    Beyond that, remember to keep up on your vitamin D, which is made by our skin after exposure to sunlight and may diminish when days are shorter and you spend more time indoors. Vitamin D isn’t just good for bones; it also helps fight infections. Make sure you’re eating high-vitamin-D foods, such as oily fish (like tuna and sardines), and check with your doctor about taking supplements to ensure you’re consuming at least 600 IU a day.

    And on the topic of worthwhile supplements, talk to your doctor about curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, as a winter pick-me-up for your immune system. The ancient Indian herb, which gives curry its zing and yellow tint, is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. Because it can interact with some medications, however, it’s important to get a physician’s advice before going all in.

    7. Upgrade your footwear. Take the risk of falling seriously — just like doctors do. The CDC warns that millions of people over 65, in particular, fall every year, with risks that rise significantly in winter. One in 5 falls results in broken bones or head injuries.

    Experts recommend rubber soles to help avoid winter slips. Choose shoes and boots that are waterproof and lined for warmth. For snowy days, consider slip-on cleats. Make sure your footwear fits — you should have room enough for thick socks. And if you can’t live without those Jimmy Choos, why not bring them in a bag to change into once you get to your destination?

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