It is quite a challenge for most people to stay physically healthy during the winter months. For me, the cold air gives me super dry skin, especially on my hands and the increased need for brushing and straightening makes my hair very brittle and weak.
Our mental health also becomes vulnerable during winter as being inside most of the time reduces our intake of vitamin D (a mood boosting nutrient that the body creates from light absorption) and this combined with the stuffy, heated office environment generally lowers our immune system and mood.
I try to counteract these things as much as possible but I struggle to motivate myself to go out in the wintery British weather and my increased levels of tiredness from the dark mornings and nights, make it hard for me to push myself to go to the gym. All in all I wouldn’t describe myself as being at my peak level of health during the winter months.
This year I have been implementing some small changes to my normal routine to try and keep myself happy and well, running up to Christmas. Most of the things I have included have been tips I have taken from magazines, books and general advice I have had from friends and family; but I wanted to share all my tips together in the hope that they will help others get rid of the winter blues.
I thought I would tackle this aspect of the winter struggle first, as this is the hardest one for me! I do a fair bit of walking during my commute to work but really, it is not enough to keep my fitness levels up alone. It is also mostly in the dark!
Often when I have made it home from work between 6.15pm and 7pm, going to the gym is the least bit desirable when eating a mound of comfort food and going to bed at 8pm is a possibility… Something I have realised from making myself go to the gym, even if it is just for 30 minutes, is the benefit of the great feeling afterwards. Exercise encourages the body to release endorphins and adrenaline which help us to feel good, increasing our positive energy. This helps to shake that heavy, lazy feeling that tends to overpower me this time of year.
Exercising also helps me to sleep better and allows me to release any anxieties and stresses that have accumulated during the day. In the run up to Christmas, we are often so busy shopping and socialising that we forget to fit in time to be active. If you can brave the cold and exercise outside that is even better, as some studies suggest that you can burn more calories whilst exercising at lower temperatures. Also, making the most of the daytime and exercising whilst it is light, will allow you to get a bit of vitamin D, albeit at much lower levels than during the summertime.
Fitting in more gym sessions has definitely helped me to feel more content, so this would be a good place to start in changing your winter routine.
I took a huge amount of inspiration from the book Eat Pretty by Jolene Hart, which offers a tonne of advice on what the best foods are for every season. During winter, root vegetables are at the top of the list along with figs, nuts and oranges to nourish the body. The book generally suggests the removal of gluten from your diet, however I have reduced my intake considerably rather than eliminating this food group completely as I am rather partial to a slice of toast!
After reading the book and doing some more research online, I have changed my work snacks to cashews, walnuts and dark chocolate and I have started to eat more sweet potato with my meals. Peanut butter has now become one of my favourite treats and adding a nice dollop to my breakfast porridge mixed with some cinnamon every morning, has made getting up that little bit more bearable.
I can see the difference after making these small additions. My skin and hair feel much healthier and less dry despite the awful weather, and I have been fighting colds well with the initial sore throat and achiness often not developing into anything. This stops me from coughing and sneezing over all of my fellow commuters, thank goodness!
Although they are going out of season a little now, fresh figs have been a really great addition to my porridge oats with some blueberries or raspberries if you don’t like cinnamon and peanut butter.
Ultimately, everyone is different and it is important to find foods that you really love that are adding nutritional value to your overall diet. Enjoying food and taking comfort from it is the most important thing during the winter months, as happiness and health go hand in hand. The temptation of refined sugar and alcohol during the festive period can often make us neglect to choose foods with nutritional value, and whilst it is fine to indulge, balancing indulgence and nutrition should be the main focus.
Despite the fact that I have been championing going to the gym and staying active, having time to yourself and relaxing is also a necessity.
November and December are often jam packed with social events, work events, family events and shopping leaving us with little down time. As such, anxiety and stress levels for me are at their highest during the festive season. We put so much pressure on ourselves to look good, buy good presents and attend every social event and be the last person standing, that we forget to just chill out and watch crap TV.
Try and read a book, set aside some time to watch a movie, make the most of your lunch break for shopping so less has to be done at the weekend or maybe shop online and enjoy time with the people closest to you. Trying to budget more and not spend so much money on people can also help as worrying about money can lead to increased anxiety levels after Christmas, when you realise how much you have really spent. Cue the New Year’s resolution about saving more!
My boyfriend has an array of awesome books, so I have been trying to read more of them on my work commute to keep my mind off work and any other general anxieties I may have. He also has Netflix so I have been making the most of snuggling on the sofa and watching good TV.
The main thing to remember is not to oversubscribe yourself, as before you know it you will be too exhausted to eat your Christmas dinner!
On a more general note, I don’t take any vitamin supplements as I don’t really believe that they add anything to your health unless prescribed by a doctor. I try to get my nutrients from my diet in the first instance and eating a well-balanced diet along with implementing an active lifestyle should be enough to maintain a good level of health.
I have read many times that caffeine is the devil of hot beverage ingredients, but I love a good coffee so allow myself to have one a day in the morning. This really helps me to focus at work and gives me a good boost for the day. In the afternoon I drinks lots of water and peppermint tea to keep myself going. Keeping hydrated in the winter should not be overlooked. We may not be sweating but it is really easy to become dehydrated as the colder temperatures subdue our thirst slightly.
Sorry, this has ended up being quite a long post for me, but I hope you guys have found it useful! If you have any tips of your own to keep yourself healthy during winter, please share them as I love to try new things. Especially food wise!
Happy winter everybody.