How do you stay healthy in winter?

November is such a bitch. This will be my eighth Scottish winter so the early sunsets shouldn't come as a shock. Yet I was spewing with indignation on Monday afternoon as I walked home from the bus stop through horizontal rain and pitch black darkness, "THIS IS INHUMANE! HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO LIVE LIKE THIS!?"

View The view on the way home 😛

I'm not alone though. From colleagues to friends to old ladies on the bus, this week everyone was talking about the urge to do nowt but curl up on the couch beneath a blanket until April.

We're recording a new podcast next week and will be tackling a question on this subject from listener Tuuli from Finland:

Any tips on how to avoid the hibernation effect? The one where suddenly you really really really want to do nothing but spend the next four months sitting at home in the dark doing constant bicep curls from the biscuit tin to your mouth?

Yes, it's winter time up north and my body and subconscious have decided that a warm layer of lard is the season's fashion accessory no 1. Oh dear.

I have my own coping tips to share but I was wondering what works for you guys? Light boxes, Vitamin D, lunchtime walks, yoga, fleeing to your Caribbean island? I'd love to hear what keeps your healthy and happy through the dreary months.

If you're up for us sharing your thoughts on air we would of course link back to your blog and/or Twitter page on the Two Fit Chicks blog.

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50 thoughts on “How do you stay healthy in winter?

  1. Oooh, the dreaded S.A.D. I suffered from it badly in Denmark, it was just so grey all Winter!

    I find that bright, sunshiney food really helps me, even though I just want to consume my body weight in mashed potato and gravy. I end up coping with Winter a lot better if I eat lots of brightly coloured fruit and veges and make soups. Soups are the best for Winter.

    My other trick is have something to look forward to, Mick and I were so busy counting down the days to our UK/Euro trip we were able to ignore the start of Winter, and then of course we escaped for a good month of it. That was RAD!

    And proper UGG boots – BEST. INVENTION. EVER.

    (new blog up, would appreciate your feedback xx)

  2. Root vegetables! Also, roast everything – roast chicken, roast parsnip (hello, Jamie Oliver), roast peppers stuffed with things, baked bramley apples…love love love winter food! And swimming for exercise…it’s cold and wet outside, how nice to be warm and wet!

    Also, after getting caught out last winter (Shauna, I have to say last year was a particularly bad one), the hubs and I went out early to buy wellies and proper winter coats – the guy in Tiso got all excited and started asking which mountain we were off to climb with our North Face gear, and looked very non-plussed when we said we were merely trying not to freeze this year! Much easier to face the miserable months when warm and dry.

    Finally, for practical and slightly obsessive folks, buy salt in bulk now if you ever want to get your car out of the driveway – all shops near us sold out of salt and we were left with one sad salt shaker trying to get moving, was not very good, so this year we have several kilos squirreled away just in case!

  3. Being from Cleveland, OH in the US, I can deeply sympathize with brutal, almost to the point of ridiculous winters. Having to take 10 more minutes out of your morning in inhumane temperatures to scrape icy crap off your car (as our public transit sucks), leaving for work in the dark only to sit in an office all day and then leave for home IN THE DARK, bone-chilling cold, ect, ect.

    I do things like put my winter jacket on the radiator while I’m getting ready in the morning, so it’s all toasty when I go outside. Some people embrace winter, they go sledding, skiing, blah, blah, blah. I personally don’t venture outdoors until it tops 45 degrees, though.

    We do have some cool ways of dealing with winter, though. My friend has a party every January called a SADS Party, where he grills outside on his porch, we drink summery drinks and eat summery food, and summery movies are played on his TV.

    We also drink alot. That helps.

  4. I’m lucky in that I live in the desert now, so winters aren’t that harsh. (I grew up in Wisconsin, so I know what a real winter feels like.) However, the days are still short and so my S.A.D. is still an issue. In the past, I tried using a light box and going for walks when the sun was out but, frankly, it never worked that well for me. The one thing I’ve found that works is getting my heart rate up on a regular basis through hard exercise. It needs to get to at least 140 bpm, and preferably spend some time at 150 bpm or higher, for me to feel the effects on my mood. And, wow, the effects are really major for me. Usually by this time of year my depression is at full force, but this year I don’t feel it at all. I am having the urge to eat the whole world still, so I guess I haven’t escaped all that winter has to offer, but at least I don’t feel depressed and miserable too.

  5. I’m not looking forward to the Japanese winter if the few cold days we’ve had are any indication. My tips — if you can, work longer or start early and do stuff in yr lunch break 🙂

    Maybe take up a winter sports. If you’re a ski fiend then winter is awesome. Otherwise you’ve just got to suck it when it comes to exercise really don’t you. I really like the idea (but have never been organised enough to do it) of having a winter and summer season – doing all the stuff outdoors like running in summer, getting into some yoga or other classes in winter.

    Foodwise, you can’t beat soup. It’s too easy and too yum.

    Finally, you can’t beat it so you may as well embrace it. I love winter coats and scarves. I love snuggling into a warm bed on a cold night. I’m sure there are many other things about winter i love too.

  6. Since I live in Atlanta in the deep south, we don’t have the brutal, snowy winters that many face. But it does get cold and dreary. I work at home but I’m chained to the computer for 9 to 10 hours…my body is STIFF after my work day and by then it’s dark. All I wanna do is take a hot bath, pull on some flannel pjs and settle in on the sofa under a fleece blanket with dinner, a dog in my lap, and with an episode of House or Dr. Who.

    What I need to do is get my booty to the gym. I take walks in the sun daily if the sun actually appears. I try to committ to certain exercise classes : Body combat and zumba that mostly occur at night that I know I’ll love once I get there. I schedule errands and trips to the grocery that I HAVE to make after these classes so I’ll fight the call of the PJs / fleece blanket on the sofa.

  7. This is the time of year when I start doing my workouts in the morning, instead of after work. I cannot even conceive of exercising in the NIGHTTIME, in the DARK. So when I get it done in the morning, I can put my jammies on at 6:00 p.m. without guilt.

  8. What works for me is *Winter* itself 🙂

    Can’t wait for the first time skiing downhill in fluffy white powder after having walked up (!) the mountain. Snow is the best thing ever for me, no tedious downhill walking which is bad for the knees, but pure joy in floating in wonderful white stuff.

    I know, it is cold, days are short, it’s dark when you go to work, it’s dark when you come back home, but there is always the weekend to look forward to, when again there is the chance to get out go out and ski.

    Things to do in winter: get warm clothes, get out, have fun with anything you do in summer, too. Walking, cycling, climbing, running, whatever. No different from summer.

  9. In the States, it means for a few weeks anyway, it’s lighter in the morning. I try to take advantage of that time to sneak in some morning workouts instead.

    I also try to make sure I’m training for something. Going to the gym on a daily basis just because it’s healthy or it helps me lose weight gets stale and unmotivating, but having a training plan that’s going to help me meet some real, physical goal keeps me on track. Even if I indulge in the occasional desire to curl up on the couch with a good book and soft blanket, I NEVER miss my more intense training days because that’s going to help me meet that goal.

    Finally, my pre-workout snack is typically a smoothie with Greek yogurt, skim milk and frozen banana. I am no above spiking it with a serving of instant coffee to get that little caffeine boost that will help me start my workout. Don’t judge! 🙂

  10. I had no idea it got so cold in Scotland!

    I don’t have a lot of recommendations for you since I live in Virginia, US and it doesn’t get too cold. Although last winter we did get 20 inches of snow which is huge for this area. We pretty much hibernated when that happened. 🙂

  11. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for you to conquer this living where you do. I live in Texas and it kicks my butt every year.

    S.A.D. is not an easy thing to fight because it seems to be overwhelming. I do use light to lift my mood and have been meaning to get some Vitamin D as well.

    Sheer determination is what I am using to stay on the diet though. I refuse to let a lack of light throw me off course.

  12. Chips and Dill Pickle Dip!! mmmm….

    Oh wait… that’s not so healthy!

    I decided a few years ago, to invest in winter gear in order to actually enjoy winter activities. IE, I bought cross country skiis. Skates. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

    I hate the drearyness that it sometimes brings — the winter season — but at the same time, I long for the beautiful sunsets (where I used to live) that were breathtaking.

    I guess I just try to find the awesome things about winter and focus on them… and, hopefully it negates the crappy things that are in abundance 🙁

  13. @Tabitha – temperature wise it's pretty mild here, it's just the darkness that can get to you! For me the saviour is exercise classes or DVDs where there's someone to motivate you. And megaloads of soup and citrus 🙂 and walks on the weekends!

    Thanks for your rockin comments everyone!

  14. I love hikes in the winter on weekends out in nature–might be dreary, but there can be some benefits (don’t sweat as much, fewer bugs, air feels crisper and clean when I’m used to it, etc.). Plus, I don’t know–there’s kind of a romantic slant to that kind of weather? I can imagine I’m traipsing across the moors hollering for Heathcliff or some nonsense like that.

    Food-wise–citrus and root vegetables! I grew up in Florida, so there’s nothing like good citrus to warm me up (and the best was usually available in the winter).

    Knowing my hot trainer was at the gym at 6 am helped motivate me to get there in the mornings last winter:-) Even though I only trained with him once a week and on the weekend. Surprisingly effective carrot.

    I bet looking forward to Zumba will help!

  15. I’ll be eagerly awaiting tips as it’s my first time dealing with the combo of pre-Christmas winter and exercise (and my first time commenting on your blog, so hi!). I’ve found the last two weeks tough: I’ve hit a plateau with my gym regime (my gym is in dire need of more classes) and I thought it was just down to that. But I think the change in season has been a big factor.
    So far, I find that making sure that I run outside during any bright spells has been a massive help. You get your vitamin D, don’t overheat in the chill and can feel smug when it inevitably starts bucketing down fifteen minutes later. (The smugness is also heightened by the knowledge that you took advantage of the sunshine and therefore don’t need to do ANY exercise ’til the next block of sunshine.)
    This can work even when you’re stuck in the office: if you see a bit of brightness, make sure you go for a walk during your lunch hour.
    Other than that: STEWS! Who doesn’t love experimenting with a stew? And you can make a shed-load and stuff it in the freezer for those days when you cannae be bothered and want to crawl under the duvet.

  16. Was just talking to a woman from Greece (here in the states) about this last night. She said she was in Greece for winter one year and it was full of people from your end of the world who move down there to soak up the sun for 3 months every year. Mass migration evidently. Not sure what type of life/jobs these people have.

  17. I’m really lucky in that I don’t (that I’m aware of) have any form of SAD, although a very good friend of mine does. I’m also doubly lucky in that somewhere (possibly it’s genetic), I picked up a simple love of weather. Any weather. It doesn’t have to be sunny, or warm, or light, or whatever for me to take joy in whatever the sky and the clouds and the sun and rain and the wind happen to be doing. It’s just all weather to me, and – as long as I don’t have be out in it for too long without the promise of a hot shower and dry clothes when I get back in – I love it.

    That means I don’t actually have any more issues coping with Winter than I do with Summer. If only I could bottle whatever it is that makes me like this and sell it, I suspect I’d make a fortune!

  18. Not claiming to have any answers (after all, I’m the one with the question; thanks, now I’m _really_ looking forward to your next TFC episode!) but the main thing I’ve tried to take on board from your earlier reply to my comment is to be gentle with myself – that exercise-wise, something is better than nothing. OK, so I don’t feel like running on a dark, rainy night, but even just walking around the block is better than not doing anything. Also, I’m hoping to experiment with light therapy as soon as I can afford it…

  19. My ‘tips’ (given that I live in Victoria AND it’s coming up to lovely lovley SUMMER yay!): get your heart rate up for half an hour at least every second day. Get outside at lunchtime every day even for 15 minutes. Look into getting one of those light therapy boxes. Be kind to yourself. (Move back to Oz?)
    (((HUGS)))

  20. My way of dealing with it is to embrace it whole heartedly. Candles, red wine, stews, woolly hats, going to sleep at 8.30pm guilt-free, sparkly frost, X-Factor, fairy lights (put them up early, keep ’em up ’til spring comes), hot water bottles, soggy dogs, wellies, rosy cheeks, better chance of seeing stars…

    Apologies – in a horrendously good mood tonight. Aware it may be irritating. x

  21. Hmmm…I’ve lived in Alaska for 30 years and I’m still shocked when I am hit with the winter blahs. ^_^

    On recommendation of my physician’s assistant, I’m taking a dose of vitamin D with all of my other vitamins. Two weeks ago I bought a light box (which I plan on talking about on my blog next week) and can already feel it working–every day I use it I’m like the energizer bunny. I’m also forcing myself to go out and walk on the nice(r) days and spending lots of time with friends so I’m not stuck in my house everyday.

  22. Have you used a light box? What is your feelings on them? I am looking ahead for anything I can use to help! Back in the old days I used to fake and bake… now with the whole skin cancer thing… not doing it! 🙂 Did it help? Have you ever heard if a gentle awake alarm (using progressive light) helps as well?

  23. I laughed so hard at your picture of the “view”. I use a light box, Vitamin D…oh, and we moved to New Mexico, so that helps A LOT!! I also incorporate whining, fit throwing and the occasional all-out-tears. As soon as it gets dark at like 5 pm, I start watching the calender for the very moment in time that it will finally be lighters outside in the evening. Winter/dark/rain…not my friends.

  24. well last year i tried intense exercise, lots of fruit and veggies and a lightbox. it took until february until i was in the depths of despair, so i suppose that was a success of sorts. this year so far i seem to have tried vegging on a sofa, eating my weight in carbs, beer… and um, that isn’t working out too well for me…
    So, I started vitamin D supplements this morning, and i guess this week i should get back to the lightbox, the gym, the diet of someone who isn’t a rugby player and I’ll hope for the best.
    I’m also considering a move to Madrid. Seems like a more attractive option than the gym right now. And I’d have to learn a new language.

  25. @pickynicki – i've never used a lightbox!

    anyone out there used one and want to tell us what it's all about?

    THANK YOU ALL for these rockin comments… have been smiling in recognition and longing to bugger off to tahiti 😛

  26. I’m a Canadian living in Australia and even surprise myself by actually missing the cold, snow and drastic change in seasons. Winter means rich stews, thick soups, baking bread all day and letting it rise next to the fireplace and getting in extra hard workouts at the gym because there’s nothing else to do when it’s -30 outside! I also look forward to changing clothes from flip flops to knee high sexy boots and tank tops to luxurious sweaters. I think it’s all a mind set so trying to stay positive is what gets me through a long winter.

  27. I hear ya Michelle. I have to say as much as the darkness gets to me, I prefer it to 40'C summer days! (please don't take my aussie passport away for that :P)

  28. Well, drink is the traditional Scottish solution. As some comedian at the Festival said, Scotland’s the perfect country for a hangover – you wake up at 2pm, feel guilty and full of self hatred – then take a look out the window and think, ‘och, stuff it, I’m not missing anthing anyway’ and go back to bed.

    I don’t get SAD but I do utterly recognise your indignation – I was filled with fury the other day as I battled through sideyways rain to meet someone for lunch. But there are lots of lovely winter days too, like today, and you get to walk in that crisp, bright sunshine. And fall over on the icy bits – and the sun’s so low it’s always right in your eyes… hmm, my positive talk is floundering 🙂

  29. LOVE LOVE LOVE your wordchoice – spewing with indignation! Moved up from Florida to the “north” – a part where it’s VERY GRAY, not the sun-on-the-snow nice north… and hate the short days, added pounds from carbs (which are scientifically proven to be necessary in the winter months), and my lack of ambitious activity…

  30. Ugh. November is always the worst – the early sunsets are a killer of motivation and hope.

    I always lamented that my ancestors had a bad travel agent – they left England/Scotland and got off the boat too early in Canada. If only they had stayed on a bit longer and ended up in the Caribbean…

    On that note – I do better some winters than others. I tried taking up an outdoor sport and buying the proper winter gear to go along with it. That way you can get out a bit on a weekend day if there happens to be a bit of sun. I also had good luck last winter with a personal trainer – I had appointments that I paid dearly for, so I was motivated to get there.

    I think one of those light boxes would be a good idea – need to read through the comments and see if people have had any luck with them…

  31. I’m addicted to my light box! And I do take Vit. D supps but I’m not sure they’re really doing anything for me… Am excited to hear your suggestions! Your first line sums up my feelings EXACTLY. Except add in “January, February and March” too.

  32. Hi Shauna

    I think our pagan forefathers knew a thing or two. The whole halloween thing grew out of holding back the encroaching darkness and the true meaning of having a shindig around the 21 December is that we need shiny sparkling things to get us through the winter. So I say embrace the traditions whole heartedly. Then book a holiday for February to have something to look forward to.

  33. I haven’t had a cold in years. The only thing I’m doing differently is I switched to mostly fresh food simply prepared. Plus I ride mass transit which probably inoculates me against the majority of the cooties out there.

  34. I LOVE the light box. I also have gotten into running outside, and I’m now in a climate where that’s a perfect lunchtime winter activity. But when it snows or I’m stuck doing indoor exercise (even in summer!) using the light box for 15-30 minutes rejuvenates me. When I bought mine, it came with a 90-day money-back guarantee (you just pay shipping) so it was worth trying it to see if it helped. What was interesting was that I’ve tried peddling it to friends and relatives, sure that it would help everyone. And most of the people who tried it (I read while sitting next to it) said it bothered them, gave them headaches, whatever. Where I enjoyed it the first time I tried it and can feel it helping me every time I use it. So if you can find a store that sells it (sharper image before they went bankrupt) and can try it out on site, you’ll have a good idea if it’s for you or not. Though I’ve heard that most people take a few weeks to work up to a full session at once.

  35. Shauna….after too many Scottish winters I found the only answer….EMIGRATION to Oz!! 29 degrees and sunny here today (don’t hate me) 🙂

  36. Normally I love winter, especially the run up to Christmas. I love hot filling meals, watching telly when it’s dark outside, and feeling cosy and warm indoors. Last year there was snow which at first was a bonus but eventually we got very sick of slipping over. The worst thing for me is wet feet. So I echo the comments about getting some proper boots. I am lucky to work in a place where I can wear most things within reason so a pair of good walking boots with good rough soles went a long way towards keeping me sane last year. And stock up on salt now!

  37. When I moved from sunny California to dark, wet, rainy Oregon, that first winter hit me like a truckload of depression. I could not conceive of it getting dark by 4 in the afternoon — that was WRONG.
    Got very sad (and SAD). I recall retreating to my bed and curling up under a fluffy comforter until February.

    Things that helped:
    – as said above, roasted veggies. Something warm.
    – ditto veggie broth
    – fire. No, not arson: lighting candles and starting a fire in the fireplace if you have one. Seems to enhance the “cozy” atmosphere
    – cuddling with a handsome man 🙂

    On the plus side, it’s a lot easier to go to bed at a reasonable hour when it’s cold and dark outside.

  38. Sorry — you were looking for idea on exercising in the winter. I switch to running at lunch, or crack o’ dawn, rather than trying to do it at night. Also, I want to try rollers (balancing a bicycle on death-defying metal bars that let you pedal in place).
    And to get up earlier,it helps to have a “light” alarm clock that simulates sunrise by gradually increasing in brightness:
    link to biobrite.com

  39. Change the seasons – “spring cleaning” — spend the winter making your home de-cluttered, then when the sun returns, you won’t miss out on those sunshine hours cleaning, and de-cluttering, if you need to be inside cos’ it’s dark and throwing it down with rain and you can’t exercise outside, exercise and nurture the soul, a simple homemade patchwork cushion ‘a la’ kirstie allsopp will bring you so much joy and happiness, your mum always told you to go outside and enjoy the weather in the summer, now is the time to do everything you have ever wanted to in the house , feel comforted, make your nest, make your nest special, nurture the soul in winter, and the body in summer, and above all *STOP* giving yourself a hard time that everything you could do and did do in the summer, you can’t do now, — do you think the hedgehog is giving himself a hard time cos’ he hibernates?? the seasons change, we need to change and adapt with them.

  40. I haaaaate winter. Especially that period from New Years ’til March where it’s just bleak and gross and there’s not really anything to look forward to but icky weather and short days. Even cute sweaters and jackets aren’t enough.

    This year – I’m just trying to make sure I have fun things to look forward to. I’m running a race in a gorilla suit!!! in Jan and am taking a week long cruise in Feb. Also, I have an indoor pool and trying to improve my swimming this winter, and swimming always makes me think of summer, so… maybe that will work… 🙂

  41. Try Canada!

    (Please. Get me out of here. Winter has only just begun and already I’m trying to hibernate and not leave my condo…)

    I find that complaining a lot about being cold helps you get through winter. We Canadians have mastered the art of complaining about the cold. Also it’s cheaper than flying to the Caribbean.

  42. I’m actually a reverse SADdo who gets depressed when it’s hot and sunny out. This time of year feels cozy and romantic for me, especially after DC’s extra-harsh summer this year.

    That said, the best tip I’ve heard for coping with the darker times of year is to get out and let some natural light hit your retinas as soon as possible after sunrise and/or waking up. Even if it’s cloudy your eyes and skin will soak in plenty of light, and it’ll keep you on track.

  43. You could always spend one half of the year in Australia and the other half in Scotland? Perpetual summer! Or, perpetual winter if you do it the wrong way round!

    Metallica were awesome weren’t they! The Melbourne concerts are the last ones in this world tour.

  44. For me, as long as it’s not *too* cold, the important thing is to not be afraid of the cold for outdoors exercise. I currently live in New Jersey, where to listen to the locals moan, you’d think we live in Alaska, the world is freezing over, ect, ect (I lived in New England; once my parents get a snowpack, it doesn’t melt until late March. I’ve seen a lot worse!) It starts hitting the mid forties by this time of year, and it’ll hit the thirties as our high by January on many days. That’s not so bad, but I’ve noticed a lot of people, even people who are devoted exercisers, won’t go out to work out in it.

    I can run in that; anybody can really (except maybe the severely asthmatic?…). It’s just a matter of dressing appropriately, and that often means wearing a LOT less layers and lighter ones than most people think. I can run in a tech t, a vest, and a pair of capri pants in the mid-forties (I did so today in fact). Yes, I was cold for a few minutes until I warmed up, but once I warmed up, I was fine. I was, in fact, glad I was not wearing more layers. And I get cold VERY EASY; I have a thyroid disorder and I don’t regulate my temperature as well as I used to. So if I can do it, I think nearly anyone can.

    Try popping over to Runner’s World, telling it’s “What Should I wear” little application the temperature, how windy it is, and how warm you like to be, and I find it does a really good job of telling you how to dress for nearly any weather!

    The wonderful thing about it is that you start to enjoy the brisk coldness–it feels interesting to feel the contrast between your warm self and the cold air once you’re warmed up–and of course you’re getting lots of sunlight, which for the SAD prone can be very valuable.

  45. I live in Japan so Winter food generally means 1-pot dishes like ‘nabe’, ‘oden’, curries and the like loaded with veges. I also love soups especially pumpkin soup as the color is so cheerful.

    For mental health I like to watch dramas and movies-ones with Summer scenes are good for blah days. Love reading so a black out is no problem.

    Shopping and meeting up with friends is fun too. We do get sunshine here which I must say makes a difference.

    Surprised people don’t mention sex as a good workout for Winter. Your choice of regular workout videos/DVDs/indoor/outdoor sports are good too.

    Am all for travel south to a brighter and warmer clime just to break things up if the budget allows.

    Basically though the best way to stay healthy over Winter is as people have said above to enjoy it (or move to Oz).

  46. it’s my fourth year in scotland, moved here from the sun. my first three years i struggled with sad, but i’ve made some changes because i refuse to be depressed this year – no sugar, philips blue light, vitamin d, and melatonin right before bed to help me sleep at night (instead of all day). so far, it’s working. we’ll see how the rest of the winter goes…

  47. I actually kind of like winter (though I wish it wasn’t quite so long). The key for me is a) to take advantage of wintery things, like hot drinks and cozy afghans and making snowmen and so on, b) make sure I get time outside so matter what. So it’s cold? Bundle up and get outside! You can run or walk in almost any weather (except a blizzard I guess). Being outside helps my mood tremendously. I run in the dark before work, but I make sure to take a 30 minute walk at lunchtime so I get SOME sunshine in my day. I also take vitamin D.