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Winter wellness tips for body, mind & spirit

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happy grandmother and grandson talk in winter natureGrowing up in California, I couldn’t have imagined how the shift between seasons would play such an important part in my day-to-day life down the line. Thirty years after meeting the love of my life and raising our family in beautiful Santa Barbara, we moved back to his hometown in the north of England, where he had deep family connections and had inherited his family home, which offered us the opportunity to adjust our lifestyles to the new mode of retirees.  The move from southern California to England had some profound effects – not least of all because of the longer nights that came in the winters. The most significant difference wasn’t just the cold but the darkness. Even in the thick of winter, sunlight hours in Santa Barbara never fell shorter than 10 hours. In contrast, nighttime in our new home starts in what still feels to me like mid-afternoon, and the darkness lasts seventeen hours!

I still remember the famous song “Autumn Leaves” (written by Johnny Mercer and forever linked to Nat ‘King’ Cole). It includes the lyrics, “Since you went away, the days grow long, and soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.” While this song was always considered a love ballad, I hear it more and more as a symbol of the memories of people like me in the later stages of our lives, after their children have left home to establish their households. How do we keep our minds and spirits active as longer nights encroach on our daily lives? 

Fortunately, at the very beginning of winter, festive celebrations like Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s parties help us stay socially connected during this time when daylight hours contract the most. These joyful events give us something to anticipate through the beginning of January. But now, as these become just memories, and we face the feelings of solitude and isolation that come with longer nights and the need to bundle up against the cold, what can we do to keep our spirits up?

Interestingly enough, I searched and found some evidence that supports the notion that everyone tends to slow down during winter – not just older individuals. It’s not just the bears who feel a biological pull to hibernate until spring arrives; some have aptly named this act of living through this season “wintering.” 

Having crossed into February, especially for those of us living in colder climates, our thoughts naturally turn to the feelings of solitude and seclusion that come with longer nights and the necessity of staying indoors and bundling up against the cold.

While there is no instant remedy for the winter blues, I have developed a few relatively straightforward steps my better half and I can take to uplift our spirits. We keep our minds and bodies engaged and active for overall well-being, especially during winter when we spend more time indoors due to shorter days and colder temperatures. This is particularly important for older adults like us, who may be more susceptible to feelings of isolation, depression, or cognitive decline. The notion that our mind, body, and soul are interconnected implies that by stimulating one aspect, we can positively impact others – a holistic approach to well-being.

How to stay social even when it’s cold and miserable out.Winter walk with a dog.

Here are a few suggestions that I can make from my own experience of how you can minimize the effects of longer nights and maintain social connections even when freezing weather makes it less appealing;

The importance of engaging in social activities and spending time with loved ones, friends, and community groups during the winter months cannot be overstated, especially for older adults. While individual mental activities are crucial for cognitive health, the benefits of social interactions are equally significant as they profoundly impact emotional, physical, and mental well-being.

  • Engage in shared social activities and devote time to spending with loved ones, and friends or engaging in civic groups. These interactions can significantly contribute to your overall well-being during the winter season. (I look forward to my monthly book club meetings)! 
  • Spend time with loved ones and participate in social activities. It offers valuable emotional support. This is particularly important during winter, when some individuals may experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or feelings of loneliness. Emotional support from social interactions can improve mood and reduce stress levels. 
  • Engage in conversations, share activities, or conduct friendly debates with friends, family members, or community groups. These provide unique cognitive challenges that differ from solitary pursuits. These interactions stimulate the brain in ways that can enhance cognitive function and potentially slow down cognitive decline. (I have a weekly video call with one of my kids and at least one grandchild. I also have a group of daily Wordle friends.)
  • Participate in social activities which promote physical movement. It can be something as simple as a walk with friends, dancing at community centers, or participating in group yoga classes. (As long as it’s not too arctic, stormy, or icy on the roads, there is a steady walking group in my area that anyone can join – my days are always better when I begin them with a social walk). 

How to exercise even when it’s cold and miserable outside 

Participating in physical activities involving social interaction can benefit our cardiovascular health, flexibility, and even our overall lifespan. Getting involved with civic groups or volunteering can give individuals a sense of purpose and belonging, which can significantly contribute to a positive outlook. This becomes especially meaningful as people enter retirement and seek new ways to connect with others and make a difference.

Here are some strategies that can help achieve these goals.

  • Many communities offer clubs or groups focused on hobbies such as gardening, book clubs, crafts, or volunteering. These gatherings allow individuals to meet like-minded people and engage in mentally stimulating activities.
  • Regularly scheduling meetups with family and friends, like weekly dinners or game nights, ensures consistent social interaction throughout the colder months.
  • Attending local events such as concerts, lectures or art exhibitions not only provides an opportunity for social outings but also offers mental stimulation.

The power of rest.woman reading

In addition to emphasizing the importance of mental engagement and social interactions during the winter’s longer nights for maintaining good health, I have learned the value of rest. Rest is a fundamental pillar supporting overall well-being – benefiting mind, body, and soul. Combining mental stimulation and social connectivity and incorporating restful practices into our lives during this colder season allows us to establish a comprehensive approach to maintaining good health.

Rest takes various forms and goes beyond being idle; it actively rejuvenates and heals the mind, body, and soul. Physical well-being greatly depends on rest. During rest periods, the body undergoes repair, strengthening the immune system and healing tissues. This becomes especially significant in safeguarding against winter ailments. Furthermore, activities like gentle yoga or tai chi can enhance physical flexibility while alleviating pain and inflammation.

For optimal cognitive function, adequate rest, including quality sleep, is crucial. It allows the brain to process information from the day, consolidate memories, and heal itself. As a result, concentration improves along with creativity and emotional regulation. Additionally, practices such as meditation or mindfulness offer mental respite by reducing stress and anxiety – particularly valuable during the potentially isolating winter months.

Rest also nourishes the soul by providing time for reflection, connecting with one’s inner self and nurturing gratitude and mindfulness. Activities that combine rest with spirituality – such as guided meditations or deep breathing exercises – can foster a sense of peace and contentment amidst both holiday hustle and bustle and serene winter moments.

Incorporating rest into your daily routine can be approached in several ways…

  • Create a peaceful environment and establish a consistent bedtime routine to prioritize the quality of your sleep. This may involve avoiding stimulating content before bed. Keeping your bedroom dark and at a comfortable temperature is also helpful. I enjoy reading books (not scrolling) or listening to calming music to help me relax before I set my sights on actual sleep.
  • If possible, integrate relaxation techniques into your daily regimen. Meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation can reduce stress levels and enhance mental clarity. While I’m not great at this yet, I have some relaxation and meditation apps to help me improve.  
  • Embrace the winter season’s longer nights as a natural time for slowing down. Allow yourself to engage in slower-paced activities that bring you joy and tranquility. For me, it could be as simple as savoring a warm cup of tea, watching the snow fall, or journaling. When I approach these moments mindfully, the serenity often revitalizes my spirit.
  • Most importantly, pay attention to the signals from your body and mind. If you feel overwhelmed or fatigued, grant yourself permission to take a step back and rest. Or as my youngest granddaughter calls it, “time to chill down.”
    Remember that resting is not laziness but essential for maintaining overall health and vitality.

How to leverage technology to stay healthy in mind, body, and soul during winter’s longer nights.

Discovering ways to utilize technology can significantly improve our ability to maintain mental, physical, and spiritual well-being throughout the longer nights of winter months. Thanks to advancements in digital tools and online resources, prioritizing a broader approach to health has become more accessible and more efficient.

  • To nurture the mind, explore the wide range of online courses available through the many online platforms. Engaging in new subjects or hobbies stimulates cognitive functions and brings a sense of accomplishment.
  • Numerous apps are explicitly designed to support mental health by offering guidance in areas such as meditation, mindfulness, anxiety management, and depression. These tools provide structured sessions that aid in reducing stress levels, improving sleep quality, and enhancing emotional well-being overall.
  • Virtual book clubs and discussion groups within online communities offer an excellent opportunity for social engagement with like-minded individuals. Participating in these forums promotes intellectual stimulation while fostering a sense of connection and belonging.
  • In terms of physical well-being, telehealth services have revolutionized healthcare by allowing virtual consultations with healthcare providers. This convenient option ensures that individuals can receive necessary care without leaving the comfort of their own homes.
  • This becomes particularly handy during winter when it can be pretty challenging to go outside or if you have chronic conditions that require regular checkups. 
  • In the colder months, there’s a tendency to indulge in excessive or unhealthy eating due to the perception of endless hours with nothing else to do. As fun as it is in the moment, making consistently poor food choices makes me feel run down. A nice, hearty soup and fresh, whole-grain bread does far more to energize me than a store-bought cake. I’ve learned that I need to be extra attentive to my health and immune function during colder times.
  • Being creative can be an excellent way to pass the dreary hours. Nowadays, various apps and online platforms allow you to express your creativity in areas like digital art, music performance, or writing. Engaging in creative activities can serve as a form of meditation and provide an outlet for emotions and stress. Happy couple on couch with smartphone

Technology has opened up a world of possibilities, offering services like Google Earth VR, virtual museum tours, and live webcams in national parks or zoos. These excellent tools can give us a sense of adventure and connection to the larger world, providing new experiences and perspectives that nourish our souls.

However, it’s crucial to use technology wisely. While it offers numerous benefits for our mental, physical, and emotional well-being, we all know that we must strike a balance and avoid digital rabbit holes. I prioritize offline activities and try to be honest about what technology enhances versus hinders my overall well-being. By setting boundaries and making conscious choices about how I engage with technology, I (and we) can maximize its advantages while minimizing potential drawbacks like screen fatigue or information overload.

In the cold winter especially, exploring technological advancements beyond the internet is essential. These innovations can support physical activity and improve overall health without relying heavily on internet connectivity. Although online resources are valuable, there are other ways to stay physically active, even when access to shared exercise facilities like gyms or swimming pools is limited.

There are many ways to embrace the latest advancements in exercise from the comfort of home during winter’s longer nights. One exciting development is the emergence of wearable technology designed to monitor physical activity. These devices monitor crucial metrics like heart rate, sleep patterns, and stress levels. Popular examples include fitness trackers like Fitbit and smartwatches like Apple Watch or Garmin. They are great motivators to help set daily goals, track progress over time, and send reminders to get moving if you’ve been inactive for too long.

For individuals with cardiac conditions, heart rate monitors can be handy. These monitors can be worn as chest straps or integrated into fitness watches. They provide immediate feedback on blood pressure and pulse readings, which is essential for adjusting your workouts’ intensity to appropriate levels. Knowing that your exercise routines positively contribute to cardiovascular health gives peace of mind.

For those of us who find it difficult or just unappealing to go to the gym, there are loads of smart Home Gym Equipment on the market. Innovative tools like smart resistance bands and adjustable dumbbells utilize integrated technology to track your workouts, automatically adjust resistance levels, and offer feedback on your form. This ensures you maintain proper technique and gradually enhance strength while prioritizing safety.

Fitness equipment such as stationary bikes, treadmills, and fitness systems can also provide enjoyable workout experiences. Although they need an internet connection for streaming classes, their primary advantage is offering a range of physical activities that can be conveniently done at home, making it more convenient to stay fit during colder seasons. These devices offer live and on-demand classes in various workout categories like strength training, yoga, and cardio.

The concept of challenging the mind and its impact on overall well-being, encompassing mental, physical, and emotional health, is not merely a belief passed down through generations but has scientific evidence to support it. Engaging in activities that stimulate the mind can enhance cognitive abilities, boost memory retention and focus, and even lower the chances of developing conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, the benefits extend beyond just mental prowess.

The power of challenging the mind.

Mental stimulation also positively affects physical health by promoting an active lifestyle and fostering a sense of involvement in life. This improves cardiovascular fitness, enhanced motor skills, and a stronger immune system. Engaging in activities such as reading books, solving puzzles, learning new languages, or playing musical instruments helps forge strong neural connections while forging new ones. This leads to a more resilient brain that can better withstand challenges.

Participating in hobbies or pursuing personal interests not only provides a sense of purpose but also aids in reducing feelings of depression and anxiety by providing opportunities for accomplishment. Interestingly enough, engaging mentally often encourages physical activity as well, whether it’s tending to a garden, walking to a book club meeting, or even practicing yoga. All these contribute significantly to overall physical health and mobility.

Numerous strategies are available for keeping the mind active and engaged during the longer nights. Embarking on learning something new is one such way that effectively stimulates the brain.

You have the freedom to explore various options, such as picking up a new hobby, delving into a fresh language or enrolling in an online course centered on a subject that has always intrigued you. By engaging in these pursuits, you’ll discover that interacting with others becomes easier. This sharpens your cognitive abilities and leads to a more vibrant lifestyle that nourishes your soul and physical well-being. Activities that challenge your mind often involve physical engagement, whether moving around, manipulating objects, or expressing yourself through artistic endeavors. Furthermore, these activities’ joy, satisfaction, and sense of accomplishment contribute to a more fulfilling existence.

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