Christmas time in Germany is beautiful. Colorful lights line the streets, Christmas Markets are around every corner, and plenty of wintertime activities to keep you busy. Unfortunately, it’s also a time with little sunlight, cold temperatures, and high risk for illness.
In fact, short winter days can lead to feelings of fatigue, grogginess, and even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is characterized by a sad mood, irritability, low energy, decreased physical activity, and a withdraw from social situations.1 While treatment should be assessed by your doctor, the following things may help put a bit of pep back in your step this wintertime.
Nutrition for a healthy wintertime
Of course, we hope to get all the necessary nutrients in our diet. But sometimes, we need a little extra help. These five nutrients will keep us on our feet and ready to enjoy those Christmas Markets!
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and important antioxidant.
It is important for our connective tissue, our metabolism, and decreasing oxidative stress in the body. It also plays an especially important role in our immune system. Vitamin C increases the killing of harmful microorganisms, as well as, the amount of disease-fighting cells (B and T lymphocytes) in our body.2
Vitamin C is commonly used to fight the common cold, too. While it may not cure us completely, studies have shown that vitamin C can help decrease the duration of a cold and has been found to have some therapeutic effect.3
When we don’t get enough vitamin C, it can lead to fatigue - making a sufficient amount of vitamin C in these months particularly important!
Zinc is an essential mineral involved in our cellular metabolism and immune system.
When we talk about vitamin C and immunity, it is hard to not also speak of zinc.
Zinc is necessary to create and utilize T-lymphocytes, an important cell in our immune system. In fact, when taken during the onset of a cold, zinc has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of a cold and its symptoms.
While getting enough zinc enhances immune function, a deficiency in zinc can actually suppress the immune system.4
Vitamin D is an essential, fat soluble nutrient.
It is commonly known for its role in calcium absorption and bone health, but it also plays an important role in our immune system.
Unfortunately, it is not naturally present in many foods and the sun is an important source of vitamin D for humans. Therefore, short days of winter put us at an increased risk for deficiency during this time (especially in northern European cities). Deficiency in this vitamin can lead to decreases in immune function and increased fatigue.5 Thankfully, many supplements exist that can help to make up for these losses.
Vitamin K is an essential, fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in blood clotting and bone health.
It works closely with vitamin D to maintain the structural integrity of our bones. But beyond this, it has also been shown that high vitamin K status is associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers.
While inflammation is a natural response to infection or injury, prolonged inflammation can be damaging to the body.6
Pairing vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 in the winter months helps us get the most benefit out of both.
Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte in the body.
It plays a variety of roles in our body and is important for energy production, metabolism, muscle and nerve function, and protein synthesis. Due to this, fatigue and weakness are marked signs of magnesium deficiency, making it especially important to get enough this time of year.7
In addition to energy and metabolism, magnesium contributes to normal psychological function. In fact, an association has been found between rates of depression and magnesium deficiency.8
In times of increased risk for SAD, supporting our psychological function with magnesium supplementation should be at the forefront of our minds.
Staying Active and Getting Outside
Although the cold, wintery months may make us feel like cozying up by the fire, sometimes we need to fight that urge and get moving! Staying active in the wintertime is not only good for our physical health, but physical activity has been shown as an effective treatment for SAD.9
Finding motivation to get moving can be the hardest part this time of year. Experts suggest creating a workout plan in the beginning of the week and sticking to it! Try to prepare as best as possible to decrease room for excuses.
If you planned a morning workout, pack a gym bag the night before. Does your office have a shower? Bring some extra clothes and take a walk or run at your lunch break. Planning to get active after work? Bring your gym clothes with you so you don’t have to stop at home first and be tempted to stay in.
Finding a buddy to train with and keep you accountable can be helpful as well. Canceling on a friend is much harder than canceling on yourself! Schedule regular times each week to get together and get active.
If you have the chance to get outside in the day time at work, do it! Even a small bit of sunshine does wonders for your mood and well-being.
- If you’re working, try taking a walk outside after lunch or moving your morning or evening run to the middle of the day.
- If you’re home or at school during the day, carve out some time to get outside. Any opportunity to maximize your time outdoors is important during this time of year.
Sometimes it seems that everyone goes into hibernation during the winter months, only to emerge at the first signs of spring. But an effective trick this time of year is to resist the urge to hibernate and spend time with friends and family.
Having some social interaction and taking part in an activity outside your home can improve your mood and mindset.1
That workout with a friend is doubly effective this time of year. It allows you to get active AND get social at the same time.
If you’re looking to get out of the gym, there are plenty of fun activities this time of year. Check out a new cozy, neighborhood café, spend some time perusing the Christmas markets, bake Christmas cookies together, or go to a concert, the cinema, or a museum!
We all know the winter months can be tough on our physical and mental health. Lack of sunshine and bad weather can even lead to serious psychological issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In these cases, consulting with a physician should be the first step in your treatment. However, there are things we can do each day to maximize our health and well-being.
Focusing on a healthy diet and ensuring we get enough vital nutrients, getting physically active and outside, and spending time with friends and loved-ones can markedly improve our mood and well-being during this time.
It may take a bit of extra effort, but creating healthy habits can help us ensure we have a happy and healthy holiday season.
- Melrose S. Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depress Res Treat. 2015;2015. doi:10.1155/2015/178564
- Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/. Published 2018.
- Ran L, Zhao W, Wang J, et al. Extra Dose of Vitamin C Based on a Daily Supplementation Shortens the Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of 9 Randomized Controlled Trials. Biomed Res Int. 2018;2018. doi:10.1155/2018/1837634
- NIH ODS. Zinc Health Sheet for Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/. Published 2019.
- Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/. Published 2018. Accessed May 29, 2019.
- Shea MK, Booth SL, Massaro JM, et al. Vitamin K and vitamin D status: Associations with inflammatory markers in the Framingham offspring study. Am J Epidemiol. 2008;167(3):313-320. doi:10.1093/aje/kwm306
- Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/. Published 2019.
- Tarleton EK, Littenberg B. Magnesium intake and depression in adults. J Am Board Fam Med. 2015;28(2):249-256. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2015.02.140176
- Peiser B. Seasonal affective disorder and exercise treatment: a review. J Biol Rhythm Res. 2009;40(1).