We need to be able to find that sweet spot where we are consistent with our routines but flexible enough to adapt as we change from year to year, says Dr. Christina Plaskos.
With summer now in our rear-view mirror and winter fast approaching, our routines need to be adaptable to the changing seasons if we are to maintain our soft skin, healthy weight, and strong immune systems that we enjoy through the summer months. Establishing simple daily routines such as making the bed are important as they start the day with a good decision, which can lead to many more good decisions throughout the day. Over time, the routines we establish result in habits, these habits eventually turn into our lifestyle,
which then causes changes at the DNA level. I am passionate about educating my patients that being aware of this progression, how we are ingraining habits as patterns that make up our lifestyle and change our genetic expression, can be harnessed to produce favourable results in our lives, with the right plan in place.
We need to be able to find that sweet spot where we are consistent with our routines but flexible enough to adapt as we change from year to year. What worked for us 5 years ago may not work for us now. Having a trusted team of health professionals is crucial in helping guide you through a plan and take a lot of the guess work out of the process.
In regards to seasonal change, I want to bring awareness to certain internal changes that occur, so that we are armed with the knowledge to make the best decisions possible.
Let’s start with physical activity: research shows that an average weight gain over the winter months is 5 – 7 pounds. That can be a very scary pill to swallow for many people but we do not have to accept this statistic as fact. From an evolutionary perspective, it made sense to gain weight and increase our fat reserves as insurance if famine were to strike during the cold months. However, with more food available to us now more than ever before in human history, we really have no excuse to let our guard down and over-indulge without having the balance of exercise and nutritional awareness to support our food choices.
In addition to weight gain, the colder months and shorter days can bring on increased feelings of sadness in some. In higher latitudes, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) causing mild to major depressive episodes related to the seasons affects 10-20 percent of our population. SAD victims can have abnormal secretions of melatonin throughout the winter compared to summer nights. This can make it more difficult to rise in the morning with a feeling of restfulness.
Last but certainly not least, our skin can suffer in winter due to the drying effects of lower humidity levels, drastic changes in temperature from indoors to out, harsh winds, even very hot showers can strip our skin’s outer protective barrier leaving it more sensitive to flare ups of acne and rosacea. Trans epidermal water loss (TEWL) increases significantly meaning that we need a skin care strategy that controls water loss from the inside and out.
Don’t despair…as the seasons change from hot and sunny to cold and grey, our waistlines, mental health, and skin complexion do not have to suffer. Fortunately, there is a solution to each of these problems. Here are 4 action steps we can take to prevent these changes from happening each year:
Mix up the exercise routine. Frequency of exercise declines with the temperature as the outdoors become frigid—but it doesn’t have to! Create a weekly exercise plan and have someone hold you accountable. Use the winter as a time of adventure to try all kinds of new classes at your gym or get excited about winter activities. Winter is much more enjoyable once we lose ourselves skiing, skating, snow-shoeing, or on long winter hikes. Spending time in nature, no matter the weather, has also been shown to increase levels of happiness, so you will be improving your physical fitness and your mental fitness with this simple action. Be sure to wear protective clothing over your face to preserve your skin health.
Find the sleep sweet spot. Sleep is essential to mental clarity and healthy aging but excessive sleeping can make depressed moods worse through overproduction of melatonin. Stick to a regular sleep time and wake up earlier, rather than later, at a consistent time every morning. Develop a soothing morning routine to help bring you joyfully and gratefully into the start of your day.
Follow well-balanced nutrition into the colder months. During winter we take comfort in warmer, more calorie-dense foods. The holiday season presents an extra challenge, but if we can eat portion controlled meals that are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and good fats 80% of the time, then we can give in to some holiday temptations without too much consequence at the waistline. Do your best to not show up to holiday events famished as it makes it next to impossible to eat sensibly. High Glycemic Index sugary foods can also wreak havoc on our skin health in acne prone individuals. Be sure to include foods high in beta carotene (carrots, sweet potato, dark greens), as they will give your skin a healthy tanned appearance that has been rated more attractive than a tan
caused by the sun!
Maintaining humidity in your home and place of work is essential to keep your skin hydrated. Invest in a humidifier for your room. Switch from a lighter moisturizer in the summer to a thicker more hydrating cream in the winter. Winter is a great time for hydrating facials and lasers treatments to reduce the effects of excess sun exposure in the summer months. You may also need to increase your dose of a well balanced essential fatty acid blend to hydrate your skin from within.
Small changes in our lifestyle as the seasons grow colder and darker can go a long way to maintaining all of the benefits we enjoy in the summer months. So, next time you feel like pulling the covers over your head, pull the curtains open instead! Remember the simple tips above, get outside and start moving!