Staying Healthy When You’re Stuck Inside

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Some of the central features of a healthy lifestyle, such as sunlight, exercise, and connection with nature, are far easier to maintain when you can be outside, but things such as disagreeable weather and rigid work schedules can make that difficult.

Although I don’t often have to deal with harsh winter weather in California, I’ve definitely gotten a taste of it over the past couple weeks while traveling for my book tour, so I thought I’d share some strategies for staying healthy even if the winter weather (or other factors) leave you stuck inside!

Cold weather keeping you inside? Stay healthy with these tips from @Chriskresser.

Supplement with Vitamin D3

One of the most important things you’re missing if you can’t get outside is sunlight. Even if you have a sunny window in your home or office, windows absorb (and thus block) UVB rays, so any sunlight you get through the glass won’t lead to the formation of active vitamin D. (1) And during the winter, chances are you wouldn’t get enough vitamin D from the sun even if you managed to get outside on a regular basis. Above a certain latitude, the UVB rays aren’t strong enough to trigger vitamin D production during the winter months; for example, exposure to sunlight in Boston produced declining amounts of vitamin D after August, and none at all from November through February. (2

It’s possible for some people to get enough vitamin D from food by consuming a lot of fatty fish, lard from pastured pigs, and egg yolks. Yet for many others, food won’t be sufficient to maintain vitamin D levels in an optimal range. (Note: there are genetic differences we’re only beginning to understand that affect vitamin D absorption, and these may determine if food is an adequate source of vitamin D for you or not.) If you fall into the latter group, I recommend taking a vitamin D3 supplement if you aren’t getting adequate sunlight. Fermented cod liver oil is a great choice, or you can use these drops. You should test your vitamin D levels at least once to get a feel for what kind of maintenance dose (if any) you might need to do in the winter, especially if you want to take a more targeted vitamin D supplement, like drops or a pill. I discuss optimal vitamin D levels at length in this podcast (and in the bonus chapter on supplementation in my book), and I believe a range of 25-50 with a target of 35 is reasonable. If you don’t want to test your levels, I recommend sticking with cod liver oil as a supplement because it’s a whole food that also contains important cofactors like vitamins A, and K2 if you get the butter oil blend. One teaspoon per day during the winter months is a good guideline for maintaining health.

Fill your house with plants

Another health-promoting practice that’s difficult to maintain when you can’t spend time outside is connecting with nature. While it may seem impossible to connect with nature without actually spending time in nature, using indoor plants to bring nature inside actually has many documented therapeutic effects.

One benefit of house plants is their ability to remove toxins from the air. It doesn’t always occur to people that the air inside our homes could be a source of toxins, but many synthetic household items such as carpet, paint, insulation, and fabric often emit a number of compounds that you probably don’t want to be inhaling. Luckily, NASA did some research a while back on ways to maintain air quality in small, tightly-sealed environments in space, which then prompted other researchers to explore the air-purifying capabilities of house plants. A number of studies have found that many plants do an excellent job of sequestering compounds such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, other volatile organic compounds, and other potentially harmful gases and particles. (3, 4) Some of the most efficient air-purifying plants include english ivy, spider plants, and peace lilies, all of which can live well indoors. (5)

Also, simply being around plants indoors has been shown to relax people and improve health. Two studies have shown that indoor plants significantly improve the mental and physical wellbeing of office workers, and another found that placing plants in a Taiwanese eighth grade classroom reduced absences, improved behavior, and increased the overall happiness of the students as compared with the control classroom with no plants. (6, 7, 8)

Clearly, a simple indoor plant can be pretty powerful for your health. They’re not very expensive, they’re attractive and easy to maintain, and they don’t have to take up much space, so there’s really no reason not to buy a few plants for your indoor space.

Create a movement-friendly indoor environment

It’s important to keep moving even if you can’t get outside during the day. Unfortunately, Americans are more likely to exercise in the spring and summer when people can be outside, and less likely in the winter. (9) Even if you typically exercise at a gym instead of outdoors, it can be difficult to get up the motivation to go to the gym when it’s freezing cold and you just want to stay inside with a blanket and a hot drink. And if you’re stuck inside for reasons other than the weather, chances are good you may find yourself sitting in one place all day, so it’s important to make your space as ‘movement-friendly’ as possible.

I’m a big fan of incorporating movement throughout my daily routine, as opposed to dedicating certain chunks of time to ‘formal’ exercise, and I cover the many benefits of this approach – as well as strategies to implement it – in Your Personal Paleo Code. You may know by now that one of my favorite tools is my treadmill desk, so that even if I’m stuck inside working, I can get in a lot of movement. It’s also helpful to have some basic strength-training equipment at home or in your office, such as a pull-up bar, push-up handles, or even some free weights. Making an effort to take beaks from whatever you’re doing indoors to do a set of push-ups or run up and down the stairs is a huge step towards staying healthy in less-than-ideal climate conditions.

Get grounded

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, “grounding” (or “earthing”) consists of establishing a connection between your body and the earth that allows for transfer of electrons. (10) The theory is that our bodies tend to accumulate a positive charge through its various metabolic processes, and these charged particles called “free radicals” can do damage to proteins and DNA in our body. (11) The earth is a source of negatively-charged electrons, so connecting with the earth can neutralize those free radicals and prevent damage, much like the antioxidants found in foods.

I mentioned grounding previously as a strategy for a healthy summer, but it’s difficult to stay grounded when you can’t be outside barefoot on a regular basis. Luckily, you don’t have to have your body in direct contact with the earth to experience the benefits of grounding. You can actually buy earthing mats and sheets that simply plug into a grounded outlet, allowing you to stay electrically connected to the earth. I’ve heard many positive reviews about these products, so give them a try if you’re interested.

These are my top four ways to reduce some of the potentially negative effects of being indoors all the time, especially during the cold winter months. If you have any other suggestions, please share in the comments!

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Comments Join the Conversation

    • John McDonell says

      I very much agree with Scott. Many folks have to change their ‘indoors’ to reflect the health benefits of an ‘outdoors’ environment. Frequently changing the air gets rid-of radon gas build-up and evens moisture levels (very important for comfort). Simple measures like using scent diffusers with essential oils can highlight circadian rhythmicity.
      UV is too often liked to ‘direct’ sunlight only, This radiation is also part of the ‘night-array’ which is reflected from the moon’s surface. By moving indoors do we have-to compensate for the natural-sleeping-under-the-stars? This means adequacy of D3 (UV-dependent) in many ways latitude and seasonally and circadian dependent. Do we ever sleep outdoors? Why/why-not?

      • Ann says

        I’ll guess that most of us don’t sleep with the window open or outdoors because we don’t want to risk getting mugged.

        • Brandon says

          Ummm… no. Most of us don’t live in such dangerous neighborhoods that sleeping in your backyard, or at least with your windows cracked, would likely lead to getting mugged.

          For heaven’s sake.

  1. Elizabeth says

    I just bought a Needak rebounder – even with hip arthritis I’ve found it to be a fun way to keep moving while indoors. A few minutes here and there, what a difference it makes to my productivity and alertness.

  2. says

    Great ideas Chris!

    59% of the population is vitamin D deficient and most like I was, are totally unaware. I had a permanent tan from always living in sunny climates on our 8 year non-stop world tour, so thought my D would be fine.

    It wasn’t!

    By improving my VT D levels I greatly improved my health and I was able to move my D levels from 18 to 56 quickly just by using the sun 10 minutes a day and diet.

    http://www.soultravelers3.com/2013/05/healing-sun-vitamin-d-major-improvements.html

    My nutritionist recommends ( like Mercola) keeping VT D levels high, so when I can not get tropical sun like now, ( traveling the Southwest USA now) I take a brand she recommended that is just 11 dollars and lasts a long time.

    I do give my daughter the Green Pastures cod liver oil, but we travel the world on a tight budget, so when I can find cheap or free ways, we prefer that for us adults.

    Gouda cheese is one of the best sources of Vt K, so we do use a bit of that as well as daily kefir from raw milk.

    Enjoy your book tour!

    • Brandon says

      I 2nd this question!

      I started tanning 2x/week this past Nov/Dec — but then noticed I was getting too tan, so too much. I’ve stopped for a bit. Thought about starting back up, but read so much negatives about tanning that I’m just not sure if it’s worth it.

      Would love to hear Chris’s take on it.

    • Jack says

      Lisa,

      Tanning beds can be hit our miss for vitamin D, and a lot of it depends on the bed you use. Some beds will be primarily UVA based and others will be primarily UVB.

      UVB is the driver of vitamin D production from sunlight, so its important for the bed you use to have above non-existent UVB levels.

      Normal UVB levels in sunlight can range from 0-10%, and you can usually get information from the people at the tanning salon, or from the manufacturer’s info on the bed.

      As far as time goes, start low. It doesn’t take much. I’ve heard Robb Wolf throw out 5 min. of exposure 1-2x week. That’s probably a good starting point, but if you are really pale, start conservative, as there’s no need to get a sunburn from the first couple times.

      You can always move it up depending on how you tolerate it.

      Hope that helps, Lisa
      Jack

      • Lisa says

        Wow, Jack, thank you for the very detailed answer. It helps a lot. I appreciate you taking your time to answer.
        ~Lisa

  3. Jacqueline Bartlett says

    With temperatures here at -10F outdoor activity is a problem, but I do enjoy being able to read sitting in a window with the sun streaming in. I know this is not the best, but it does help, and I can pretend I am sitting in the garden in the summer. Not as healthy but it helps.

  4. cathy says

    I don’t know about the grounding sheets. I’ve been hearing so much talk lately about how using them in the US can be counter-productive. The electricity in the US actually gets sent back through the ground, therefore using a grounding mat can actually increase your exposure. I’m no electrician so I can’t verify these claims, but it may be something to consider…..

    • Brandon says

      No way that’s true. Electricity doesn’t work that way.

      It’s complex to explain via a smart phone. Suffice it to say that ALL electricity ultimately goes to ground, not just the US. And ground is like an electrical black hole. Electricity does not flow backwards out of it.

      If it did, grounding straps to keep buildings safe from lightning and technicians safe from shock would not work.

        • Brandon says

          Those were good reads. Thank you.

          Still, what they describe vs what you did are 2 different things.

          Yes, it’s theoretically logical that sleeping on a ground could channel RF from the air to ground through you.

          But that’s a totally different thing than saying that the electricity might flow backwards from ground into you.

          And the point they are making is not particularly special to the US. Any developed area with lots of radio signals and electricity might suffer the same problem.

          If it’s even a problem, though. Because if it is, we should never suit on the ground, all furniture should be insulated, and we should only wear rubber shoes.

          A much more practical solution would be to ensure homes are built with a Faraday cage incorporated into their structure.

  5. Peter says

    I live in Maine and it has been single digits above and below zero most of the winter but that’s no reason to stay inside if one has insulated boots, snow pants, mittens, hat and snowshoes. Climbing on steep ground I actually have had to take hat and mittens off as I work up a near sweat!

  6. Jenny Doores says

    I’ve found it helps to use saline nasal spray, a.m and p.m., to keep membranes from drying out from indoor heating. Moistening the air with plants, humidifiers, and or soaking in baths, breathing through washcloths. Also, bundle up as much as necessary to get outside anyway!
    Jennifer

  7. Kathryn says

    I am also wondering about the sun lamps used for people with seasonal affective disorder – do those have the right type of UV to produce vitamin D?

  8. Alexa says

    This question is OFF TOPIC of this article.
    But how can one send an email to Chris Kresser and or contact him?

    Thank you!

  9. Karl says

    I think people need to grow a pair of balls or suffer the consequences. I work 50 hours weekly, and I’m on my feet the whole time including being outside there with lots of trees. I commute via bicycle, so I’m outside at least 8 hours minimum weekly. Sometime this winter, December I believe I was out for about two hours or so shirtless and skin got a bit tanned or red. If we don’t make vitamin D around this time, then how do you explain that? It was 50 degrees and sun altitude was around its peak for the day. I’m skeptical of grounding.

  10. says

    I have chronic fatigue and possible lyme disease. My sleep was always fragmented and poor with my brain constantly in overdrive before I began grounding during sleep. Wrapping my body in conductive material connected to a wire that runs out of my bedroom window into the ground causes an incredible sense of calm and rest, while sharpening my senses at the same time. Those without such significant health problems may not notice such a dramatic change, but I’m sure they will benefit as well.

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