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Tips to end winter hibernation

It’s been a long time coming, but Mother Nature has finally started to shake off her winter blanket. Pops of green disrupt familiar white and grey landscapes and bring the promise of renewal. And as the Earth stirs herself awake, you may be starting to think about coming out of hibernation yourself.

Obviously, humans don’t really hibernate. But, if you’ve spent the last four months bingeing Netflix, you might be feeling a little bit like a grizzly bear lumbering back to life. And you’re not alone. Research suggests that adult physical activity drops between 11-30% in winter when compared to summer.[1]

Our food choices also change over the cold Canadian winter. Studies show that we take in more fats in the fall, and that generally we eat about 86 more calories per day over the winter. Not surprisingly, the extra food intake combined with inactivity leads to a weight swing of about half a kilogram (1.10 pounds) within the year. In other words, “winter weight” is a real thing and it impacts your metabolic health.

Metabolic health reboot

Your metabolic health isn’t just about the size of your waistband: it also involves maintaining normal blood sugar, stable energy, healthy blood pressure, and having enough energy to do the things that interest you.

Metabolic health is impacted by loss of muscle density, which can occur rather quickly.[2],[3] You may have noticed that being under the weather even for a few days can cause you to feel weaker. Over days and weeks, inactivity can lead to loss of muscle mass, insensitivity to insulin, high blood pressure and dyslipidemia. Dyslipidemia involves abnormal levels of fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood and has been linked with heart disease.[4] 

How to un-hibernate

If you feel magnetically attracted to the couch, it can be difficult to release yourself from its comfortable grasp. Commit to daily movement, even if that only involves a quick walk around the block. Moderate exercise will release endorphins that will encourage you to move a little more next time.

If you can be outside when the sun’s shining, all the better. Sunlight  provides a variety of health benefits you don’t want to miss, including creating your own supply of immune-building vitamin D. 

Boost your energy

While it’s common to turn to caffeine for extra energy and a cocktail when it’s time to relax, over-use of either can zap your get-up-and-go. Consider replacing a cup of coffee per day with a mug of hot water and lemon. To spice it up, add a pinch of cayenne. This healing drink will help to improve digestion (and amplify energy from food) and stimulate liver detoxification processes. (See our Spring Optimi[ze] Guide for more information about supporting natural detox processes.) More movement also requires more hydration, so be sure you hit your daily H2O target.

Get back to whole foods

It’s hard to access fresh produce during winter’s deep freeze, so it’s possible your plate may have been filled a little too often with refined carbohydrates for the past few months. While soul-satisfying, these foods lack a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other plant nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables that spark energy.

The promise of spring produce means you can start to incorporate fresh, raw vegetables back into your meals. Toss some nutrient-dense mushrooms on your plate. Mushrooms are low-calorie sources of minerals including boron, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc that are necessary for biochemical reactions in your body, including the contraction of muscles and the beating of your heart.[5]

Mushrooms are a source of B vitamins niacin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin that support metabolism by helping to release energy from carbohydrates and fat as well as breaking down amino acids. B vitamins also transport oxygen and other energy-containing nutrients to all the cells in your body. Because they are water-soluble, you must eat sources of these vitamins every day.

Functional mushrooms for spring revival

Therapeutic mushrooms are your ally when it comes to shaking off winter cobwebs and amping up your metabolic health. Cordyceps contains cordycepin that may help to reduce the build up of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol), total cholesterol and triglycerides in blood.[6] Cordyceps improves metabolic control, reduces free radical stress, decreases fibrosis (involved in arterial plaque build-up), and helps to calm inflammation associated with metabolic dysfunction.[7] Traditionally used to promote energy during exercise, human research also shows that cordyceps might be helpful as you aim to log 30 minutes of daily exercise.[8]

Gut means go

If your energy levels are low, you may also want to rev your digestion so you’re getting access to all the nutrients you consume. One way to do that is to keep your gut microbiome happy. Along with supporting your immune system, the gut microbiome plays an important role in digestion and is responsible for creating B vitamins biotin, folate and B12.

Dietary fibres that you eat – and are unable to digest – become food for these important bacteria. Bacteria transform the prebiotic fibres into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that provide us with quite a few health benefits, including protecting the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract. SCFA also play a critical role in communication between the gut and the brain.[9] Medicinal mushrooms, including turkey tail, are a source of prebiotic carbohydrates. Turkey tail mushroom may also be useful metabolic health tool as it’s been found to promote healthy body weight and support heart health.[10] 

Toss the toque, unwrap the scarf and shake up your routine. It’s time to let spring revive you!

Lisa Petty, PhD is Education Manager at Optimi. She is *so* ready to welcome spring! Learn more about her interests and background here.

REFERENCES:

[1] Shephard, R. J., & Aoyagi, Y. (2009). Seasonal variations in physical activity and implications for human health. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 107(3), 251–271. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-009-1127-1

[2] Kim, G., & Kim, J. H. (2020). Impact of Skeletal Muscle Mass on Metabolic Health. Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea)35(1), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.3803/EnM.2020.35.1.1

[3] Vella CA, Michos ED, Sears DD, Cushman M, Van Hollebeke RB, Wiest MM, Allison MA. Associations of Sedentary Behavior and Abdominal Muscle Density: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. J Phys Act Health. 2018 Nov 1;15(11):827-833. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2018-0028. Epub 2018 Oct 9. PMID: 30301405; PMCID: PMC7304496.

[4] Kopin L, Lowenstein C. Dyslipidemia. Ann Intern Med. 2017 Dec 5;167(11):ITC81-ITC96. doi: 10.7326/AITC201712050. PMID: 29204622.

[5] Friedman, M. (2015). Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(32), 7108–7123. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914

[6] Ashraf, S. A., Elkhalifa, A. E. O., Siddiqui, A. J., Patel, M., Awadelkareem, A. M., Snoussi, M., Ashraf, M. S., Adnan, M., & Hadi, S. (2020). Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps with Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)25(12), 2735–. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25122735

[7] Cao, C., Yang, S., & Zhou, Z. (2020). The potential application of Cordyceps in metabolic‐related disorders. Phytotherapy Research34(2), 295–305. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6536

[8] Hirsch, K. R., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Roelofs, E. J., Trexler, E. T., & Mock, M. G. (2017). Cordyceps militaris Improves Tolerance to High-Intensity Exercise After Acute and Chronic Supplementation. Journal of dietary supplements14(1), 42–53. https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2016.1203386

[9] Silva, Ygor Parladore, Andressa Bernardi, and Rudimar Luiz Frozza. “The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids From Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication.” Frontiers in endocrinology (Lausanne) 11 (2020): 25–25.

[10] Huang, Z., Zhang, M., Wang, Y., Zhang, S., & Jiang, X. (2020). Extracellular and Intracellular Polysaccharide Extracts of Trametes versicolor Improve Lipid Profiles Via Serum Regulation of Lipid-Regulating Enzymes in Hyperlipidemic Mice. Current Microbiology, 77(11), 3526–3537. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00284-020-02156-3