During the cold, dark winter days we are understandably less interested in exercising outside and there is a temptation to overeat warm comfort food and drink more hot caffeinated drinks.
We are also more prone to catching viruses and bugs in the winter months, so staying active and nourishing your body will help you to fight off germs, stay healthy and feel good in yourself.
Unfortunately, you also tend to turn to vices during the winter – whether that is for comfort or through winter socialising.
Here are some of the most common habits that you need to kick this winter for a healthier you:
Rather than a last minute diet to try to squeeze the extra winter pounds into a Christmas party outfit, it is better to permanently work healthy eating into your routine. Not only this, but fad diets are usually lacking in certain nutrients. If you are low on any nutrient your immune system will not function properly.
Winter might not have summer’s obvious abundance of fresh fruit and veg, but there are plenty of ways of making sure that you are getting your daily requirements.
Salads will not be very appealing on cold days, but soups are just as useful for getting your portions of vegetables.
You can also easily add fruit to your morning porridge during the winter. Try adding raisins and cinnamon, stewed apples, pears, rhubarb, blackberries or banana.
Don’t forget to use frozen fruit and veg during the winter months as they get flash frozen, often retaining their high season nutritional value.
One clever tip is to add frozen berries to a ramekin, top with oats, whole wheat flour, nuts, cinnamon and butter and put it under a grill to quickly brown.
You can also stir peas and spinach into many favourite dishes such as spaghetti bolognese or shepherd’s pie. To make sure that the peas retain their nutrients, there is no need to cook them – simply pour boiling water over frozen peas and this will be enough to defrost them so they are ready to eat.
Winter cooking can also be really easy – chopping up a variety of root vegetables and roasting them or putting them all into a hot pot requires little effort. Adding a can of lentils to a vegetable hot pot will also serve to bulk it out.
If you are cooking vegetables by boiling them, some of the nutrients will go into the water, so make sure that you use the water afterwards. You can use this water in soups, sauces or gravies.
It is imperative that you give up smoking for the benefit of your health and winter offers some encouragement. It’s too cold to go outside to smoke and it’s antisocial.
If going cold turkey is too difficult, then vaping is proven to be successful in helping people to stop smoking. With a large choice of e-liquids you will find it to be enjoyable. According to lead researcher Dr Caitlin Notley from UEA’s Norwich Medical School: ‘Not only does [vaping] substitute many of the physical, psychological, social and cultural elements of cigarette smoking, but it is pleasurable in its own right, as well as convenient and cheaper than smoking.’
Smoking has numerous health risks, but one of them is that it increases your blood pressure. Your blood pressure is in fact naturally high in the winter, so by increasing it even more you will be putting an even greater strain on your heart.
Smoking also damages your immune system, at a time of year when it is already under greater strain.
When the colder weather and darker mornings hit, we are more likely to reach for a caffeine fix. However, too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, muscle breakdown, addiction, high blood pressure, fast heart rate and fatigue.
If you love the taste of coffee, try switching some of your cups to caffeine-free. Alternatively swap the coffee for rooibos tea – this caffeine-free tea will satisfy your need for a warm drink while rehydrating you.
Interestingly, warm drinks might not actually warm you up. Nerve receptors on your tongue signal to the rest of your body that a warm drink is coming and your body starts to sweat in response, which has a cooling effect and you end up feeling both cold and damp. In the same vein, drinking too much of a cold drink can actually warm you up as it causes your blood vessels to tighten!
Fostering immunity means developing antibodies against pathogens so that the next time your body. So by immediately killing a winter bug with antibiotics you will not be developing immunity and will eventually become resistant to the antibiotics.
The NHS advice is that antibiotics don’t work for viral infections such as winter colds or flu and most coughs and sore throats.
Sometimes you have to go on a course of antibiotics, in which case, once you have finished the course, make sure that you take some probiotics to replace the good bacteria in your gut. Take probiotics in a tablet form, rather than in a drink which can contain a lot of sugar. This will boost your immunity.
Driving short distances
There are very few people who have the desire to leap enthusiastically out of bed to exercise on a dark winter’s morning. However, making sure that you exercise during the winter will help you to stay at a healthy weight and will boost your immune system so you will take less sick days.
One simple way of doing this is to buy winter, weather-proof clothing including boots with a good grip and to walk rather than drive at any opportunity. You will notice a huge difference in your body if you do this all winter, but you should also notice a difference in your frame of mind – it will make you feel good!
Not wearing sunscreen
Sunscreen is not just for the summer months – skin specialists recommend that you wear SPF through the winter as well as summer. UVB rays are weaker in winter, but UVA rays are just as strong and these cause damage and premature aging – and these rays can even cut through a glass window. In fact, the ozone the earth’s ‘sunscreen’ is thinnest in winter – even more reason to put on some sunscreen to block out those harmful rays.
If you are out in the snow during the winter, remember your sunscreen as snow nearly doubles your expose to UV rays.