As we move out of winter, it’s important to look after ourselves physically and mentally to optimise our wellbeing. Here are the top five tips I feel are important in helping us to achieve this…
Exercise is important all year round; but especially in the Winter when darker days and cold weather may keep you indoors more. As a general guide we should aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week (or half an hour 5 days per week). In the Winter months gym or indoor activities such as swimming can be more appealing than going outdoors. Even walking to work and being active at home is good for health, and can help to prevent your mood from lowering. Whatever works best for you!
2. STAVE OFF COLDS
Colds and other viral illness may occur despite our best efforts to avoid them, especially in the winter. There is some evidence that taking zinc supplements may shorten the duration of a cold and also taking higher doses of vitamin C may also help some people. However, for recovery drinking lots of fluids and rest is always key. With a heavy viral illness it is best to rest and avoid exercise for a few days in order to recover more quickly.
3. BOOST YOUR VITAMIN D
Living in the UK during Winter with a lack of sunshine can mean many people become low in vitamin D. Vitamin D is classically thought of in association with calcium and bone health. In association with this it is an important vitamin (and hormone) for general health. It can reduce fatigue, aches/pains in the body and also reduce the risk of viruses such as colds and respiratory conditions.
To see if you are currently low in Vitamin D, you can ask your GP for a blood test to check your level. However, most people can supplement without a blood test- it is rare to have too much vitamin D. I would recommend vitamin D3 as best form to take- and this can be bought in pharmacies/health suppliers. Foods rich in the vitamin include oily fish, egg yolks, cheese and some breakfast cereals.
4. EAT HEALTHILY
A balanced diet is always important, but particularly during the Winter when colds and other viruses may stress the immune system. As a general guide, avoid or reduce sugar and processed food as this stresses the immune system. Lots of vegetables and fruits will supply anti-oxidants to help the immune system. Soups are an ideal way to get healthy nutrients in the cold weather.
4a. STRENGTHEN YOUR GUT
The microbes in your gut not only help your body digest food, but they also help regulate your metabolism and your immune system. Infact, almost seventy percent of your immune system is in the gut. Eating fermented food (think bio-live yogurt, miso, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut) popping a probiotic or increasing dosage if you are already on one boosts the level of good bacteria in your gut. These good bacteria influence your body’s T ‘cells, the crucial white blood cells that help power your immune system. They also help reduce inflammation which prevents infection.
4b. EAT AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
Studies have shown that a high intake of simple sugars decreased white blood cell production buy up to 50%. Eating a diet based on wholefoods and loading up on antioxidant rich vegetables and fruit will boost your overall health and help protect you from other viruses and infections. On the other hand, a diet that is high in refined foods and sugars is down to dramatically decrease your immune function. Feed your body nutrients not empty calories…and this is especially true when you are about to get the flu or are already sick.
5. SLEEP WELL
Good quality sleep is again important throughout the year, but with the darker nights in Winter, it’s naturally a good time to catch up on some much needed sleep. Ideally 8 – 9 hours is needed for most people, although many get much less than this. It’s important to remember that sleep allows recovery in the body to occur, and is especially important for the immune system.
To get to sleep and improve quality I would advise avoiding alcohol if at all possible. Even a couple of glasses of wine can significantly affect the quality of your sleep and lead to chronic tiredness. Avoid caffeine also; especially after lunch to minimise the risk of disturbing your sleep. Reading before bed is a good way to become tired. Switch off TVs, mobiles or laptops for 1 – 2 hours before bed to also help you sleep better.