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7 Small changes to make this your healthiest winter ever

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Winter doesn't have to be a dreary time for your health

You don't have to give up on your favorite winter treats and habits to stay healthy when it's cold outside.

But who wants to add another task to the list during the most stressful time of the year? Thankfully, a few simple habits and swaps can make a world of difference for your winter health.

1. Stay hydrated with warm water

Most people tend to struggle with hydration during the cold winter months, since thirst isn't felt as acutely without the heat of summer as a reminder. Not only that, cold water can lower core body temperature, which is uncomfortable when it's freezing outside. Troubleshoot the problem by sipping on warm water, instead. You can jazz it up with herbal tea or a touch of lemon juice, and it will warm you up from the inside out.

2. Add a probiotic to your morning

Cold weather isn't directly to blame for a seasonal spike in cold and flu infections. It's certainly responsible, however, for keeping people indoors and more readily exposed to nasty germs. Protect your immune system by taking a probiotic each morning so your body can effectively fight seasonal infections. You can look for probiotics in supplement form, or in foods like yogurt, kefir and sourdough bread.

3. Change your workout scenery

It's hard to exercise in the drudgery of cold weather, so change your scenery to stick to your routine. Take a hot yoga class, or find a running trail that reminds you of the beauty of winter. Simply addressing your workout barrier is often enough to overcome a fitness plateau. Don't beat yourself up for exercising differently in the winter, either, as long as you stay committed to moving your body every day.

4. Ditch your normal salad

Cold foods like cucumbers, melons and iceberg lettuce are the enemy of good health when the weather turns cold. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, produce has thermal properties that correspond to seasons of the year to promote or diminish overall health. For optimal health, swap your cold-natured produce for warm alternatives — like mustard greens, leeks and bell peppers. Plus, warm foods just taste better in cold weather, which will help you eat more servings of fresh produce.

5. Give heavy cream a break

A nice cream soup is perfect for a cold day, but heavy cream adds a ton of unnecessary saturated fat and calories to your daily food intake. Instead of using heavy cream, substitute either low-fat cream cheese or low-fat milk and cornstarch in your recipes. You'll taste all the creaminess, with only a fraction of the fat and calories. Better yet, go for broth-based soups which will still be satisfying without the calorie burden.

6. Open your blinds

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real problem for many Americans, who find that dreary and cold days can lead directly to a depressed mood. Instead of suffering through the winter, make sure you absorb as much sunlight as possible for optimal mental health. Open the blinds of your house to let sunlight in or go for a walk at the peak of the day instead of morning or night.

7. Park it and walk

Still can't bear to exercise in the cold? As you hop around town for your holiday shopping, commit to parking and walking whenever possible. Don't circle the parking lot for the closest possible spot. Instead, park as far away from the storefront as possible. Even if this habit only adds five to 10 minutes of walking per day, that's up to 70 minutes per week — which is already half of the moderate exercise doctors recommend.

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