Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Winter is hardly a wonderland when you’re wandering around feeling woozy from a cold or debating whether to get a flu shot. Have sniffles replaced snowflakes as the emblem of winter? Mother Nature doesn’t need to be so cruel. Research points to several different methods for maintaining your overall health during the winter months, without having to get poked by a needle or having to open your pocketbook for more temporary cold and flu relief. From adding honey to your teacup to sprinkling berries on your cereal, here are some easy ways – backed by recently published studies – to boost your immunity by eating clean, and to elevate your mood so that you can go play with Jack Frost.
See also 5 Immunity Boosters for Winter.
1. A touch of honey
Bee healthy and happy! Perhaps Winnie the Pooh was onto something. Honey may be the healthiest way to soothe a nighttime cough, according to a study from researchers in Israel. While the team of pediatricians focused on upper respiratory infections in 300 children aged one to five, study author Herman Avner Cohen, MD, said that honey can be considered a safe and effective alternative to cough syrup for those over age one. So unless you’re worried about calorie consumption (honey contains about 22 calories per teaspoon), there’s no reason not to try a teaspoon or two – the effective dosage in the Pediatrics study – as a part of eating clean and staying healthy.
2. Go cocoa-nuts
Cold weather can raise blood pressure since lower temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict. And higher blood pressure could increase your chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke while, say, you’re shoveling the sidewalk. But according to a recent study, heading indoors to warm up with a mug of hot cocoa may be just what the doctor ordered. Australian researchers studied 10 years’ worth of data from 20 studies to discover that those who consumed chocolate rich in flavanols once a day for several weeks experienced a slight drop in blood pressure of about two to three points. Since the scientists were examining a range of studies, they were unable to recommend a specific amount, but encouraged moderate consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa products. Per day, the participants who experienced a drop in blood pressure consumed between three and 100 grams of dark chocolate or cocoa containing between 30 and 1,080 milligrams of flavanols.
See also Your Brain on Chocolate.
3. The acai advantage
Acai, the purple berry found in Brazil and other southern climates, may be one of the best at fighting the oxidative stress that can come from a winter-impaired immune system. In a recent issue of Experimental Gerontology, Emory University researchers used fruit flies to show how acai beats such supplements as vitamins, coenzyme Q10 and lutein in maintaining a better quality of life and extending life span.
See also3 Must-Try Acai Bowl Recipes for this scrumptious Hawaii 5-0 Rainbow Bowl pictured here and two other refreshing and flavorful acai bowl recipes.
4. Learn to share
Farm-fresh food, that is. A study reveals that you’ll probably eat more antioxidant-rich vegetables when you’re offered a variety of them. When 66 healthy adults were served a meal that included broccoli, carrots and snap peas, they ate more veggies overall than those presented with just one type, reveals the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. By joining a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm-share program, you’ll reap the healthy harvest of a myriad of vegetables, even in winter. Find one near you through localharvest.org.
See also How to Choose a CSA Program.
5. Edible sunshine
Although the long, cold days of winter can hurt mental health, you don’t necessarily need a trip to the tropics to reset your happiness clock. Help may be right around the corner in your kitchen, according to research presented at the August 2012 meeting of the American Chemical Society. Scientists found that the chemicals in blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, among other foods, mimic the effects of valproic acid, a drug prescribed for those suffering from manic-depressive mood disorders. If you can’t find fresh berries at your local market, frozen ones will do just fine.
See also The Healing Power of Berries.
The power of meditation goes beyond peace of mind. You already know that exercise and meditation are good for your overall health. However, research reveals that the one-two punch of these types of lifestyle choices can knock out the common cold. When Wisconsin doctors studied 149 adults (mostly white women around age 60), they found that those who exercised (in a group for two-and-a-half hours each week and at home for 45 minutes daily) and those who meditated regularly (in a two-and-a-half-hour weekly group session and at home for 45 minutes daily) were less likely to contract acute upper respiratory infections than the control group that did neither. The healthy groups’ jobs were also less likely to suffer from illness: The exercisers missed just 16 days of work, while the meditators missed 32 – compared to 67 missed days in the control group. So, instead of stocking up on cold medication for the winter, you may be better off with a new pair of sneakers, or a comfortable cushion for meditating.