What does winter mean to you? To me it signifies grey, cold days, long dark nights, gloomy wet weather, feeling a bit low mood wise and generally wanting to be warm all the time. You can probably tell that I am a summer person and do not really like the winter months, in fact, I spend most of my time, fighting off SAD symptoms, dealing with Reynaud Disease and feeling cold all day. So recently, in an effort to make myself feel better about winter I have been looking up on the internet ways to stay healthy over the winter months and I thought I would share them with you. The worst thing that can happen in winter is that you get a cold or the flu but to prevent that we all need to put in a bit of effort. And as we have just passed the New Year, what better time to start making lifestyle changes that will see you in good health all through 2012 and beyond. This article is not just a winter health guide either, these top tips will keep you strong and fit all year. If you are like me you will not want to go to great extremes in order to get healthy so fear not, these are just little adjustments to give you and I a head start to a healthier lifestyle. Just by making a few small changes hopefully, will lead to big differences in our overall health and wellbeing. And if you have any winter health tips please let us know by commenting below.
1. Giving Up
If you only follow one tip from this list then this is the most important one of all. Abstaining from smoking and drinking alcohol. And research has shown that the period just after New Year is probably the best time ever to try giving up smoking and alcohol. As a smoker I know from experience just how difficult it is but if you are going to pick a time then try to make a New Years resolution. One reason giving up smoking and alcohol is so important is that they affect and damage our immune system. Dr Anuradha Arasu says, “Both alcohol and cigarette smoke interfere with the functions of many of the cells and molecules that are part of the immune system.” So it is not too late to have a go at giving up the two most damaging chemicals you can put into your body.
2. Feel The Freeze
Nutritional Therapist and yoga teacher Charlotte Watts says that “Turning up the heating can dampen a metabolism that expects to have to work harder to keep you warm in cold times. Thermogenesis (heat-creation) is the body mechanism that you really want to encourage as it promotes the natural fat-burning that keep us warm in the winter, rather than the fat-storage tendencies of those who stay sedentary and overly warm. It doesn’t take long to get used to one less layer or the thermostat down two or three notches and you’ll feel less sluggish.” So, turn down that thermostat or take off that sweater and give your body a chance to use its own temperature gauge for a change. You’ll soon get used to it!
3. Happy Days
So many factors can affect our immune systems and especially in the winter months. Lack of natural daylight and the sun is one of the main influences of a depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is prevalent in the winter months of November through to March. Martin Cox, who is a UKRCP Registered Independent Counsellor/Psychotherapist says, “Winter can bring on or make worse the symptoms of depression as many people become less active, spend less time out and about and socialise less.” Depression and other such sleep disorders have been proven to have a detrimental effect on our immune systems which makes it easier for us to pick up cold and flu viruses. To defend yourself against the symptoms of depression, take daily walks outside, whether it is sunny or not, take St Johns Wort, a natural anti-depressant, and keep speaking and talking to your friends and family about how you feel.
4. No Sweet Zone
Kate Butler, who is the Head Nutritionist at Holland & Barrett tells us that “A high intake of refined sugars can negatively impact the immune system. Not only does it impair the ability of white blood cells in eliminating bacteria, it also robs the body of key nutrients such as the mineral zinc which plays a key role in maintaining the normal function of the immune system.” Try and cut down on your sugar intake which means not just cutting down on sugar in tea and coffee but pastries, cakes and biscuits too! If you cannot give up sugar easily then try taking a zinc supplement.
5. Eat Your Greens!
One way to greatly enrich your diet with antioxidants (which are good for boosting the immune system) is to make sure you include vitamin-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your meals. Eating nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, eggs and free-range meats contain healthy fats that help to keep away the sugar cravings and ensure our bodies are burning rather than storing fat. Eat plenty of fresh, dark leafy greens and bright, red, orange and yellow fruits to make sure that you are getting a whole host of vitamins, minerals, antioxidant carotenoids and soluble fibre that help support good digestion and detoxification, which is the root of strong immunity through the cold months. Add some protein to your diet as it is the building block for a healthy mind, body and immune system. Also, typically diets that are low in protein tend to be higher in refined carbohydrates, which convert to sugar more readily and burdens the immune system.
Here’s to a healthy 2012!