Kick-start your winter health with these expert tips
With the mercury dropping and everyone getting the sniffles, the temptation at this time of year is to light the fire, mainline mashed potato, drink all the Merlot and hibernate. But it doesn’t have to be like that. We asked three top wellbeing experts for their tips on how not turn into a tortoise, Suzy Sick Note or the Michelin Man this season. The trick, it seems, is to tweak your summer habits, rituals and regimes to make them work for the change of season. So off that sofa, please, it’s time to maximize your winter wellbeing.
WINTER HEALTH, by Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, Director and GP at Your Doctor
Flu jabs aren’t just for children and old people:
Flu can easily be spread when in close contact with other people. Getting a vaccination is the most effective way of preventing you and those around you, from getting it. Everyone should get one but especially those who are at risk such as pregnant women, the elderly, or people with certain diseases such as asthma or diabetes, as well as carers. And you’ll need to do it every year as the virus can mutate rapidly, so a new vaccination is created annually to mitigate this.
Consider a vitamin D sup:
The current advice on vitamin D from Public Health England says that adults and children over the age of one should have 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day, which means that some people may want to consider taking a supplement. Our main source of vitamin D is obtained from sunlight on our skin as it is difficult for us to get the recommended amount of vitamin D from food alone. You can check if you are vitamin D deficient through a simple blood test at your GP’s.
Don’t get in a mood and your immune system will benefit:
People often report a low mood in the winter but the most obvious antidote to this is regular exercise. It will make you feel more energetic, can improve your mood and will help you manage your weight better in the winter months. There is also some limited research suggesting that moderate exercise can strengthen the immune system by promoting good circulation. My other tip would be to laugh more! It sounds a little silly but laughter may increase the production of antibodies and white blood cells in your body and reduce hormones associated with stress. So not only does laughing help you mentally, but also physically. Many argue that a positive state of mind helps keep us well and helps recovery from sickness.
Go for a morning stroll:
As the morning light diminishes, our bodies are not triggered to produce as much of the hormone that cause us to wake. This can impact on our energy levels and mood which can disrupt our sleep. With fewer daylight hours it may feel harder to get up in the autumn and winter, although we need a good quality eight hours’ sleep per night all year round, that figure doesn’t change between seasons. Taking a walk in the morning daylight has shown to improve our biorhythms and thus helps us to get quality sleep. Going to go to bed at the same time every night can also help. Seasonal affective disorder sufferers will also benefit from a morning jaunt – sunlight exposure will increase vitamin D levels which reduces the risk of SAD, as well as osteomalacia and rickets.
Wash your hands (but don’t go mad):
You don’t need to get obsessed with anti-bacterial hand gel (studies have shown that sanitizer is no more effective than soap and water in stopping the spread of colds, flu and other respiratory diseases) but regular hand washing with soap minimises the spread of viruses and bacteria between us all. Ensure your children wash their hands after the toilet and before they eat, and wash all fruit and veg. That said, it’s is important to remember that coughs and colds help to develop our immunity so don’t go overboard with hygiene levels.
Your Doctor has private GP practises in Wexham and Champneys Tring.
WINTER FITNESS by Steve Gregory, PT and founder of FitLife gym
Find new ways to motivate yourself:
It’s dark and cold, and there aren’t any fitness events like half marathons to train for in the winter, so it’s perfectly normal for your motivation to dip. Find a short-term challenge to motivate you like mastering unassisted pull-ups in the gym or slashing time off your 5k run PB by Christmas. It’s important to have a goal to train towards. Also, schedule in your workout times at the beginning of the week; look for any spare hours in your diary and write in your exercise plan. Once you physically write it down, it becomes an appointment and you prioritise it.
No one wants to get up at 5.45am and that’s fine:
Accept that it’s unlikely you’ll want to replicate your summer fitness regime in the winter. My gym is packed when the days are long but right now we get loads of late cancellations for 6.30am classes because people just can’t get out of bed. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just be realistic and accept you need to adapt your plans. Treat yourself to an extra hour of sleep if you need it and just make sure you exercise later in the day.
Warm-ups are crucial:
You might feel you can get away with skipping a warm-up in the summer, but you definitely need to do one in the winter. Obviously it’s colder outside so your body is colder and the blood won’t circulate as efficiently as it does in summer, making you more prone to injury. So walk slowly before you jog and do mobility exercises before you lift weights. What’s more, in the winter, we are naturally more static, we sit around inside drinking coffee, so you might turn up to exercise having barely moved all day – another reason to ramp up your warm-ups before exercising.
Be careful if you’re under the weather:
If you punish your body too much and over exercise it can affect your immune system, making you more prone to illness. So be kind of yourself and listen to your body – consider shorter, less intense exercise sessions and take an extra rest day if you need it. Generally, it’s OK to exercise if you have a head cold but if you’ve got the kind of virus that involves aching muscles, take it easy and just go for a walk.
Don’t be defeated by the endless darkness:
I know it’s tricky to run or do other outdoors exercise when it’s so dark in the mornings and evenings, but there are other options. If you can possibly take time out at lunchtime, it’s a great time of day to exercise in winter, as it’s when you’re most likely to get decent light, which is always a boost. Or see it as an opportunity to try something new that doesn’t involve pounding the pavement – tell yourself you’ll have a break from jogging for a few months and get into swimming, spinning or something completely different. As long as it raises your heart rate it’s fine, and your joints will probably thank you for it. Alternatively, die-hard runners can seek our their local running club – numbers are always boosted in winter as people prefer to run in a pack after dark.
WINTER DIET, by Gemma Shorter, nutritionist at The Food Doctor
Comfort food doesn’t have to be stodge:
When it’s dark after work we often feel too sleepy to cook good meals and we crave carb-y, creamy comfort food. But there are plenty of warming winter meals that are good for you, easy to prepare and inexpensive. Experiment with tray bakes, stews, soups and curries, made with filling, healthy lentils and beans.
Step away from the green beans flown in from Kenya:
Vegetables are very important in winter to help nourish our bodies through the colder months – they’re not just for your summer salads! There are lots of versatile in-season local vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, parsnips and swede and I recommend you try to base your meals around these, as they don’t have to travel as far and therefore retain more of their nutrient content.
Look after your gut:
In the winter we spend more of our time in confined spaces with heating systems and recirculating air, and are therefore more likely to pick up a virus. Our gut microbes control 70 per cent of our immune system and we therefore need to look after, and nourish, our guts. You can do this by eating a diverse range of foods, including those rich in probiotic fibres (oats), prebiotics (yoghurt, sauerkraut) and polyphenols (nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, dark chocolate and red wine). A bowl of porridge for breakfast will warm you up, fill you up and help your gut – winner!
Boost your skin:
At this time of year our skin sometimes suffers, possibly due to a lack of sunshine, less time outdoors and more time inside being ravaged by heating systems. There are a number of nutrients you can eat to boost your skin, such as zinc, antioxidant vitamins (A,C, E), vitamin D, omega 3s and pre/probiotics. Snack attack? The Food Doctor Super Seed Mix contains chia seeds and linseeds, while the Raw Power Mix contains walnuts; all are rich in skin-boosting omega 3.
Words: Kerry Potter