Do you find that maintaining good health over the winter season can be challenging? You are not alone – winter can be a trying time for many people, both mentally and physically. The days are shorter, darker and colder and our bodies are more susceptible to all kinds of winter nasties like colds and flu. While it seems tempting to stay inside and keep warm on the couch, being proactive about your health and wellbeing will help you make it through the cooler months cold and flu-free, and in tip-top shape. I want to share with you some things you can eat, take and do to stay healthy this winter.
1. Supercharge your food and eat well
Maintaining optimal nutritional status is essential for mounting your best defence against winter ailments. In our time-poor world incorporating easy ways of increasing the nutrient density of your diet is a must. I find liquids are easy to prepare and easy to take to work. Opt for a supercharged smoothie, soup or fresh juice. It is amazing the amount of nutrition you can pack into a drink. Blueberries, raspberries and blackcurrants are all good sources of vitamin C, an essential immune booster. Making a morning smoothie means you start your day with a few nutritional runs in the bank. However, you may notice as the temperature cools you feel the need to eat hot meals to help keep warm.
One of the obvious winter favourites is soup – ideal for a delicious lunch or a nourishing snack. Green soup, fragrant Asian-style broth, classic vegetable soup and of course chicken soup are all great options, but to add to their nutritional value it’s a good idea to supercharge them using a bone broth as the base (see recipe below). Bone broths have been used throughout history by many cultures. They are an excellent nutritional option for people with food sensitivities or gastrointestinal disorders because they are usually very well tolerated and are an easy way of supplying essential nutrients. Bone broths contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur and many other trace minerals. They also contain chondroitin sulphates and glycosamines, so are a natural way of promoting healthy joints.
As you know I’m really passionate about good nutrition and vitamins and minerals. This winter, dose up on vitamins and minerals for optimal health: Iron, zinc and vitamin C are all key inputs for a healthy immune system. Boost your dietary intake of them by eating dark, leafy greens and red and yellow vegetables, which are all high in antioxidants, and/or take a good supplement to keep up your levels.
2. Take restorative breaks and rest up
Nothing is better and more nourishing for you on all levels – body, mind and soul – than time out and time for yourself. Part of enjoying the winter months is embracing what this time of year has to offer. For example, if you live in New Zealand, there are many beautiful natural hot pools. If you are lucky enough to live near a natural hot spring, then take the opportunity to visit and soak your winter worries away. Or settle in for a cosy winter night at home with a warm bath with relaxing aromatherapy oils and a scented candle. Utilise the extra time indoors to read more or watch that film you’ve been meaning to see.
Regular sleep is vital to staying healthy. Don’t let yourself get run down. Those who aren’t well rested are more likely to get sick. Remember to go to bed early, not later than 10 pm. Wind down for about an hour before bedtime by doing something relaxing. Reading a good book is always a good relaxation activity before bed. Read more here on some tips for a better nights sleep.
It is essential to have things to look forward to. Nothing can lift your spirits quite like taking some time off in the sun so if you can, plan a trip away to your favourite warm-weather destination. Or plan an active winter-themed getaway, even if you are just getting away for the weekend. Go skiing, bike riding or ice-skating.
If you can’t get away then start planning a trip for later in the year. Or do something that will pamper you at home such as a facial, massage or taking time out to spend a day in the garden or in the kitchen trying new recipes, if that is restorative to you and what you enjoy. Basically it’s important to do something that you enjoy and gives you some well-deserved time out!
3. Keep up Exercise
If you find it hard to get motivated to exercise in winter…just think of spring and how much harder it is to get back into shape rather than maintain your fitness throughout the year. Maybe join the gym in the winter months if it’s hard for you to get motivated.
Dr. Libby Weaver says: “The quality of your life depends on the quality of your rituals… so we need great rituals!” During the warmer months it is easy to rise with the sun and take a walk before breakfast. But if it’s pelting with rain or blowing a gale, the inspiration to do some early morning movement can be compromised. During the winter months rituals can disappear and we can become more sedentary – so this is a good time to rethink your daily ritual to give you something energising to do inside. This could be a few squats, push ups, stretches and lunges (with some fun music) at home or maybe try the Yoga cardio exercise called Salute to the sun.
Go for a walk even when the weather is really cold – your body has to work overtime to get warm. Remember, go a little slower until you get warm and keep up the hydration. If it is too hard to go for a walk first thing in the morning maybe try a walk during your lunchtime or after work or on the weekends. A walk in the sunshine will also boost your levels of Vit D. too.
Try indoor sports as an alternative to cycling and jogging outdoors. Don’t forget that swimming at an indoor pool is an option for a great cardio workout!
More tips on Exercise and how to keep motivated in this post here.
4. Brighten Up
Do you spend all winter wearing black and grey clothing? The lack of colour in nature at this time of year seems to influence our choice of clothing. Although surrounding yourself with or wearing bright colours won’t protect you from the winter nasties, it will most definitely give your mood a boost, which is important too. Try starting your day with a hot drink from a bright yellow sunshine-coloured mug, or brew your morning tea in a gorgeous colourful teapot. Wrap yourself in a bright scarf or have a look here for seven ways to brighten up your winter wardrobe. You can also brighten up your home by adding colourful throws or pillows, green plants, flowers, colourful candles, family pictures or colourful art work, maybe made by yourself. Another great tip to brighten up your mood is listening to some uplifting music in the car or to have a boogie at home to your favourite song.
You may also find that you need to add something extra special to your daily ritual at this time of year. A couple of squares of dark chocolate can have particularly soul-nourishing qualities (but keep it to a couple of squares!). Good quality dark chocolate (70 % + cocoa) is a good source of tryptophan, the amino acid precursor of both serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is the feel- good hormone and responsible for you being happy, calm and content and of course melatonin is responsible for sleep. Utilise the winter months to indulge in creative activity, yoga, or meditation, relaxing with friends, or curling up with a good book.
Tip: Brew yourself a good quality loose-leaf green tea for a potent anti-oxidant kick and flavour it with fresh lemon and ginger. Or make a fresh warming ginger tea.
Simply be, breathe, and practise gratitude!
Bone broth recipe:
Use leftover bones and simmer with herbs, water and vegetable scraps to produce a delicious bone broth – use as a base for any soup or broth.
Tip: Or alternatively keep green vegetables soups on hand and in the freezer to use as a powerful nutritional kick. It’s nice to add broccoli or cauliflower to any soup, not only as they are two of nature’s true super foods but because surprisingly they also add a creamy texture to the soup.
– This & that Magazine – May 2014