Beat the winter blues

It’s that time of year when you just feel like hibernating like the animals. When it’s cold outside all you feel like doing is staying indoors, heating full on and not doing much at all. Well taking care of our health in the winter months is very important. A healthy diet, enough sleep and staying active are all essential to our winter wellbeing. Although, well wrapped up, there’s nothing to quite beat that first walk in the freshly fallen snow, breathing in that fresh air!

Instead of resorting to comfort in foods which are very tempting but usually high in sugar, fat and salt, try warming and nourishing soups and stews full of flavour and healthy vegetables. By making sure your diet includes winter fruit and vegetables such as sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, beetroot, kiwi fruit, mandarins, bananas, garlic and ginger you will be feeding your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to keep your immune system healthy and fight off all those unwelcome colds.

A good nights sleep (eight hours for an adult) can help keep the body’s immune system healthy. Try to avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking as these can affect the quality of your sleep. Regular, moderate exercise, relaxation techniques and establishing a regular sleep routine may help to promote improved sleep.

It’s always harder to find the motivation to exercise when it is cold outside, but remember that keeping active during winter is essential to support our health and wellbeing. Moving your exercise indoors during winter will help to keep you warm as well as fit and healthy. Be sure to spend time warming up before you start your exercise as it can take a little longer for your joints to loosen up in the cold weather.

Avoiding the exercise as well as the salads during winter can often lead to weight gain. While it may only be a small weight gain you’re not going to feel good about yourself when you try getting into those Spring clothes. By sticking to your healthy diet and exercise routine all year round, you’ll be much healthier in the long run and you will avoid that “yoyo effect” – eating then dieting, never quite getting the weight back to what it was, then the cycle starts again next winter.

The cold weather can affect our skin and contribute to conditions such as dry, itchy skin, chilblains and eczema. This may be due to the reduced humidity, drinking less water than you would during summer. As the weather cools down and our thirst decreases it is easy to forget to drink enough water. You still need to aim for about two litres a day of water during winter as it is essential for our body to function. Also reduced circulation which may decrease the flow of blood and nutrients to the skin and therefore could have a drying effect. Try using moisturisers daily may help to keep the skin moist and supple whilst supplements containing vitamin E or garlic help assist blood circulation. If any of your family suffers psoriasis or eczema, try taking fish oils which provide omega-3 which can help manage these itchy skin conditions.

During winter our hands and feet can often feel cold, as our hands and feet are at the extremities of our bodies this means they are the furthest from the heart which is pumping blood around our body to help keep us warm. By keeping on the move with gentle exercise we can help to improve circulation to the extremities of the body.

Although we can do a lot to support our health and immunity during winter it is not always possible to avoid catching a cold or flu. The viruses that cause colds are spread by sneezing, coughing and hand contact. It helps to wash or sanitise your hands regularly and avoid close contact with someone who has a cold. If you do catch a cold do be sure to drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol and caffeine and get plenty of sleep. Supplements such as vitamin C, zinc and echinacea may help relieve the symptoms and reduce the duration of a cold.

Stress can have a negative effect on your body, it can lower your resistance to bugs by depressing the immune system. Importantly, stress increases your need for dietary magnesium which is important for muscle and nerve function. Many of the B vitamins e.g. B1, B5, B6 and B12 are also needed for a healthy nervous system.