With the colder weather drawing in, it's important to look after your physical and mental wellbeing. This advice should get you on the right track
The nights are drawing in, there’s a chill in the air and the trees are putting on a glorious show of colour. That can mean only one thing – autumn is here, and winter is coming.
This time of year can make us more susceptible to illness – both physical and mental – so it's important that we're extra-vigilant with what we eat and drink, and the kind of activities we do. So avoid the temptation to retreat under the duvet with a large bar of chocolate, and instead take these simple steps to help keep your physical and mental health in the best possible condition.
(Please note that these tips are aimed at boosting your general wellness. We have a separate article on how to protect against COVID-19 here.)
1. Boost your diet
Research has shown that vitamin C is one of the most powerful immune-boosting vitamins available. When you go shopping, include foods that are high in the vitamin – such as oranges, kiwi fruit and broccoli. Soluble fibre found in apples, oats and nuts is also good for boosting your immune system – and it helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the body, too.
A good diet can also improve mental health – studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids (commonly found in oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, as well as nuts and seeds) can help to reduce depression, which people often feel during the shorter days of autumn and winter.
2. Exercise regularly
When the weather turns, it can sometimes be hard to find the motivation to stay fit, with outdoor exercise often sacrificed in favour of warm nights indoors on the sofa. However, it's vital to keep your workout schedule going during the winter, as studies have shown that a moderate level of regular exercise has a long-term cumulative effect on immune response. It is recommended that you take a brisk walk for more than 20 minutes a day, for five or more days a week, to reduce the threat of sickness during the colder months.
And if you can, find a workout buddy. When it's cold and dreary outside, having a friend to support you can make all the difference.
At the risk of sounding like a stuck record – wash your hands. Frequent hand washing has always been one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness, as it limits the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes. And with COVID-19 still very much a threat, this is especially vital.
You should take special care to wash your hands after using the toilet or travelling on public transport, as well as before meals. To ensure you are washing your hands correctly, follow this advice from the NHS.
4. Drink water
To stay healthy and keep your digestion strong, experts advise drinking around 6-8 glasses of water each day. If you don’t feel like drinking cold water when it’s cold outside, you can drink warm water, or opt for herbal tea that also offers lots of antioxidant benefits, such as mint or green tea. The moisture will also help to make mucous membranes – such as those found in your sinuses – more resistant to bacteria.
5. Get your home ready for winter
As we age, our bodies have to work harder to keep us warm. So the NHS has issued a number of tips to help keep you and your family well in winter, including having at least one hot meal a day, as this will help to keep you warm. The NHS also recommends that “if you’re not very mobile, are 65 or over, or have a health condition such as heart or lung disease, you should heat your home to at least 18C”. You are advised to keep your bedroom at this temperature all night if you can, with the bedroom window closed.
Also take the time to remove any winter mould from your house, as it can cause respiratory infections, nasal congestion and wheezing, as well as making asthma worse.
6. Spice up your life!
Not only do onions, garlic and ginger add flavour to your dishes and make food taste great, they’ve also been shown to help improve immune function. Garlic in particular is known to be an intense immune booster, killing off several types of bacteria and viruses. So feel free to toss some extra garlic into your sauces, pasta and vegetables. And if the distinctive fragrance is a problem for you, odourless garlic supplements are available at most health food stores.
Curry is a wonderful warming dish to have in the winter, and adding turmeric also ensures that you'll keep your immune system functioning well, as it's a natural anti-inflammatory and a powerful antioxidant.
As the days grow shorter and colder, many people begin to feel low moods or experience depression. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is experienced by many Brits. Light affects the amount of the brain’s ‘happy hormone’ serotonin – the summer sun keeps our levels high, while less natural light in winter causes them to drop, along with our mood!
But as Anna Williamson, mental health campaigner and author of How Not to Lose It: Mental Health Sorted, puts it: “This is something we can treat ourselves. Over the years, I’ve adopted mood-boosting strategies such as using a specifically designed SAD ‘light box’ every morning to simulate sunlight, and absorbing as much natural daylight as possible (going for a walk at lunchtime helps).”
Anna Williamson is also an ambassador for one of Boundless's chosen charities, Mind, and on its website you will find information on how to cope with winter depression.
8. Sleep well
A lack of sleep can have a serious effect on your immune system, making you more vulnerable to catching colds. Winter can give us the opportunity to get some early nights, but it’s important to keep regular hours, so go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even at weekends.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine – this means avoiding the TV or using your computer just before bedtime, and dimming the lights an hour before sleeping, as it will boost the release of melatonin in the brain.
We'd love to hear from you
Photos: Getty Images