Ever wonder how you can make winter healthier? How can you make winter happier? Inside we’ll look at a few options to make winter a better season.
- Tip #1: Bright days, every day
- Tip #2: Dark nights
- Tip #3: Fresh air
- Tip #4: Scale down Working Out & spread out volume
- Tip #5: Vitamin D, the thymus, and not getting sick
- Tip #6: Avoid inflammatory food & inflammatory environments
For those of you living below the 37th parallel (pretty much San Fran and below), you can ignore this post, and go enjoy your coffee as you sit out in the beautiful sunshine.
For the rest of us who will experience a real winter, we know what’s ahead of us. The good news is that we can make a few changes to make winter a lot more pleasant and avoid the nasty seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Not only that, but with a few tweaks, we can head into spring without having gained a ton of stubborn fat, maybe even pop on an inch of muscle to the right places, and we’ll be in good shape when spring arrives.
Tip #1: Bright days, every day
When it gets cold, the last thing we want to do is spend time outside. But it’s imperative that we do. Light can be measured in LUX. Being outside is 8x brighter than being inside.
Bright light breaks down melatonin, the sleep hormone leftover from the night before. If that melatonin doesn’t get broken down by bright light, you will stay lethargic, sleepy, and moody.
You don’t need a coffee to wake up. You need sunshine. Some winter countries even have even invented “light cafes” to try and fix this problem of low light indoors.
The bright light exposure doesn’t need to be long—even a 60-second step outside shortly after you wake up ought to be enough.
During the day, I try and make my home office as bright as possible during daylight with bright incandescent bulbs pointed up at the ceiling.
Tip #2: Dark nights
Aside from the coldness, our daylight shrinks a ton. In Toronto, the longest day in June will get 6.5 more hours of sun compared to the shortest day in December.
It seems that the light from the sun itself is protective of our health. That could be because the energy from the sun modulates blood pressure, blood vessel dilation, and nitric oxide production or because it charges our immune cells (more on that later).
This lack of daylight is why the winter feels so rough. This also explains why more people die in the winter.
So in the winter, without that sunshine, our bodies need something to counterbalance the destruction that comes along with darkness.
And we have that. It’s an antioxidant hormone our body produces called melatonin. Melatonin is known to fight colds, burn stubborn fat, fight parasites, deal with heavy metal overload, and help maintain healthy levels of muscle mass.
Normally, melatonin begins to release once your body senses that it is dark because the sun has descended.
There are two big problems in the modern world.
Problem 1. Dealing with things that suppress melatonin release
Bright light, particularly blue light (like from daylight), will suppress melatonin release. However, orange/red/infrared light (like from a fire) will not suppress melatonin release.
Most people use energy-efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs that are heavy on blue light, and they contain little red wavelengths and no infrared. This kind of house lighting (and TVs and phones) will prevent melatonin release. As long as that blue light stays on, your body is getting the message that it thinks it’s daytime. This is why people who have TVs in their bedrooms gain more weight.
Where I am, with daylight savings time, it’s getting dark pretty early now. If it’s dark at 5:30 pm, that means that melatonin should already be releasing. My body should already start producing antioxidants because the sun is gone.
But for most people, that melatonin won’t release until they shut off all their lights and TV at 11:00 pm. That’s 5.5 hours of less melatonin running through their body every single day. For a hormone that melts body fat and improves digestive health, that’s a problem.
Problem 2: Less Natural Melatonin Production
You need bright light, and a lot of it, to generate the precursor for melatonin. (Light>>tryptophan>>serotonin>>melatonin)
So you need bright light exposure to set up a good sleep. If you’ve ever spent the entire day outside (beach day, camping, boating, gardening, yard work, etc.), you’ll notice those days you hit the bed like you’re a bag of bricks.
As you get older and as you get exposed to more toxic fluoride through fluoridated water, toothpaste, etc., your ability to produce melatonin will diminish.
There are lots of ways to solve these problems related to dark nights. For example:
- Use blackout curtains in the bedroom
- Wear blue-blockers at night or use IRIS software on your laptop to make it turn yellow and use incandescent bulbs in house lighting
- Avoid fluoride as much as possible (drink spring water instead of fluoridated tap water, brush teeth with hydroxyapatite, etc.)
Tip #3: Fresh air
A while ago, I bought a gadget called Airthings View Plus to measure air quality in my house just for kicks. A lot of people in the Airthings forums have noticed that it’s pretty much impossible to get a “good” air quality rating unless you’ve got a window open a crack.
The Airthings will monitor a room over time, and as you sleep in your bedroom (especially with a spouse), the CO2 levels gradually rise. By opening the window a crack, the CO2 levels stay low, and people notice they don’t wake up as groggy. The more people you’ve got in the same room, the faster it will build up. Too much CO2 can cause headaches, so this makes sense.
The CO2 build-up is high indoors because of energy-efficient windows and house-building materials. It keeps the heat in during the winter, the cold in during the summer, but there’s more CO2. If you’ve ever had a headache with air conditioning, now you know why.
I believe there are other possibilities for the benefits of fresh air beyond less CO2.
One of them is negative ions. Sunshine charges outdoor air with its electrical energy, affecting our blood chemistry as we breathe it in, thinning our blood. Negative ions may help clear bad bacteria in the air (2018).
HVAC, for whatever reason, seems to do the opposite. It causes positively charged air, which can make us feel tired and lethargic.
“Cabin fever” is real. If you’re feeling tired, it might seem counterintuitive, but dress properly, get outside, and go for a walk to stay warm. You might find that the fresh air perks you up.
Tip #4: Scale down Working Out & spread out volume
One paper on athletic training in the winter addressed the issue that work capacity drops in the winter months. This means that our body isn’t able to handle the same level of intensity and volume of workouts as it can in the late summer/early fall.
When you exceed your work capacity, you will have a harder time recovering. You will also set yourself up for an injury, or you might catch a cold.
Researchers recommended that athletes to spread out the workout sets across the week to avoid catching a cold. For example, instead of doing one-hour sessions 3x a week, it might be better to do five sessions a week of only 35 minutes. This makes each session easier on the body, so you never feel overworked at one particular time. (The paper also said to avoid crowded gyms in the winter.)
Frank Zane, a Mr Olympia winner from the golden era, said that he couldn’t see much progress in the winter when trying to build muscle everywhere. So the winter time for him was a time of muscle maintenance and “not getting fat.” He would simplify his routine and just work on one area. So instead of trying to build muscle everywhere, he would pick an area to focus on, such as arms, for a few months. He’d move all that volume from legs, back, chest, and funnel it over to his arms. That allowed him to continue to see progress, even at an advanced level, during the winter when you can’t train much.
Tip #5: Vitamin D, the thymus, and not getting sick
In a 2007 study, taking just 800IU (not even one drop) of vitamin D3 daily essentially wiped out the flu in study participants. In the group taking 2000 IU a day, only one person got ill over the whole year.
In 2017, there was an article in the BBC covering a study showing vitamin D was more effective than the annual flu injection. (Imagine that we knew all of this years ago…)
I am cautious around vitamin D3 now after experiencing some minor side effects from high dosage over a long period of time. Vitamin D3 is a finalized form of a hormone (cholecalciferol), and so it does play with vitamin A, vitamin K2, magnesium, calcium, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that some careful and targeted low-dose during the winter months is a bad idea.
I like getting vitamin D naturally through food or light, such as wild salmon (4x more vitamin D than farmed salmon), meat from animals raised outdoors in pasture, and raw honey. There are also clinically tested phototherapy lamps. I like the Sperti lamps, which can raise vitamin D levels (balance the UV out with some healing infra-red light therapy, a good diet, adequate rest, etc.).
Before vitamin D supplements were invented, hospitals used to use phototherapy or just bring people outside. Today hospitals still use phototherapy. Many psoriasis sufferers can get UV-B tanning machines prescribed, and babies use blue-light therapy for jaundice, etc.
You can reduce vitamin D burnout by avoiding inflammation as well. In fact, inflammation may be why our vitamin D is low in the first place…
Inflammation is caused by a variety of things. Having issues with digestion, immunity, environmental exposures, poor sleep, etc.
Tip #6: Avoid inflammatory food & inflammatory environments
As we just covered, inflammation might be the cause of low vitamin D.
Years ago, I remembered being puzzled by this 2007 study on Hawaii residents. Nearly 100 people measured, with an average age of 24, getting 4 hours of sun every day. And still, over half of them had low vitamin D.
Now I know that sunshine is important, of course. And research shows you can raise vitamin D levels with phototherapy lamps and going outside daily. But the body charges our immune cells (thymic t-cells) with vitamin D. Then it will clean up the body.
If you’re battling chronic inflammation, your vitamin D will be low because your immune system is working overtime.
Is it possible that we’re eating at least one thing that doesn’t fully agree with us? And is it possible that we’re eating that thing every single day—causing a daily battle in the digestive system?
Is it possible that a lot of the things that are deemed safe for us in our environment aren’t really that safe? (Fluoride toothpaste, tap water, etc.)
Is it possible that we’re not getting as much fresh air, or as much sleep as we ought to be?