We are all aware that this time of year is about indulging in nice food and drink with all the Christmas parties and get- togethers taking place. Don’t feel too guilty though, as even the team here at Care for Health enjoy the occasional indulgence! However, like most things in life, you need to find a healthy balance so you can get through the winter months avoiding colds and flu’s whilst continuing to perform at your best. So here are my top 5 tips for helping to achieve this…
1. Make time for movement
We all know that keeping our bodies active is great for both our physical and mental health, but it also plays a huge role in supporting and maintaining a healthy immune system. Research shows that exercise does this by increasing the volume and circulation of cells which are responsible for fighting common viruses such as colds and flu’s. But how much is enough?
- 2 1/2 hours of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 1 1/2 hours of vigorous intensity exercise per week
- Resistance training 2x per week
- Reduce time spent sitting at your desk or sofa
- Try to generally be more physically active, maybe take the stairs as opposed to the lift where possible!
Conversely, it’s wise not to over train as this can have the reverse effect by suppressing the immune system, reducing the white blood cells which are vital for fighting off infections.
If you haven’t already, make sure to download our FREE 5 Best Spinal Mobility Exercises brochure by clicking on the image below:
2. Get plenty of rest
Your body won’t thank you if you never give it enough time to recover! A lot of us pride ourselves on ‘only needing 5 hours sleep a night’ however research has shown that not getting enough sleep can significantly reduce your alertness and general performance as it helps to cleanse the brain of all the toxins that have accumulated throughout the day. A lack of sleep has also been associated with inhibited cytokine function. Cytokines are basically proteins that are crucial in controlling the growth and activity of both immune cells and blood cells. So ensuring that you get a consistent 7-8 hours of sleep a night will boost your immune system is in its optimum state to help fight infection. Here are a few tips to help ensure you get the best sleep possible;
- Try to get into a routine so you are going to bed and waking up the same time every night
- Read a few pages of a book instead of scrolling through your phone
- There are plenty of apps and podcasts such as ‘Calm’ and ‘Headspace’ which can help you to relax and make it easier to fall asleep
- Take herbal teas before bed time such as chamomile or lavender tea or use a magnesium and glycine supplement such as Cyto-Night (which can be ordered directly from Cytoplan online HERE, including a 10% discount.
3. Ensure you are getting enough Vitamin D
One of the main sources of vitamin D is from natural sunlight (which we all know in the UK can be limited this time of year) so as the winter months draw in it is vital that we are getting enough of it from other sources. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are high in vitamin D along with red meats, cheese and egg yolks. The main function of vitamin D is to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which is important for the maintenance of our bone, muscle and teeth. By also being a vital hormone, Vitamin D is associated with regulating our body’s immune system helping to prevent viral and bacterial infections whilst reducing our perception of pain. Some of the common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, general muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, restless sleep, poor concentration and headaches.
As most of us in the winter months are unlikely to get the sufficient daily intake of vitamin D through diet and sunlight alone, we should consider the use of supplements in order to get enough. We stock vitamin D at the clinic so speak to a member of the team if you would like to purchase some to keep you healthy throughout winter.
Also, check out our Vitamin D infographic by clicking on the image below for more information and tips about this wonder vitamin:
4. Look after your mental health
This winter roughly 3% of the population will suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The main theory is that it is a type of seasonal depression which primarily affects a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The role of the hypothalamus is to help regulate;
- The production of melatonin – this is a hormone which makes you feel sleepy. With SAD the body may produce higher levels of it making you feel even more sleepy throughout the day
- The production of serotonin – commonly known as the ‘Happy’ hormone which affects your mood, appetite and sleep. Reduced sunlight during the winter can lower your levels of serotonin linking to feelings of depression and lower mood. Serotonin levels are also linked to gut health, so it’s important to eat the right things over winter too.
- Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – As we know there are less hours of sunlight during the winter. Sunlight indicates to our bodies important daily functions i.e when to wake up and when go to sleep. An increased disturbance to our body clocks can lead to SAD
How do I know that I have SAD? Some of the symptoms include:
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent low mood, feeling sad, low, guilty, tearful
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Increased susceptibility to cold, infections and other illness
- Loss of sexual or physical desire
There are a number of different methods you can use to help reduce your chances of developing SAD. All of which are straight forward to follow and can easily be part of your daily routine;
Getting outdoors exercising
It is all too easy in the winter to go into hibernation mode when it is cold and dark outside. However wrapping up warm and just going for a walk will significantly increase the production of serotonin lifting your mood and enabling you to deal with the stress of daily life much easier. Try to make physical activity become a part of your daily routine as this will then become a habit requiring much less effort. Even a 30 minute walk during your lunch break will enable you to get away from your screen and clear your head helping you prepare for the afternoon.
Because SAD is a type of depression, therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling are important things to consider. Emotional components such as (worries about Christmas, work stress etc) may be contributing to the issue and need resolving alongside other considerations. Alongside this, being open and communicating with close friends and family can also help. Winter can also be a time of isolation for lots of people, so having people around that can help and support you can make a significant improvement in your outlook.
Get more light
As discussed, light is very limited in winter, so using a SAD lamp is a very cheap and effective way of getting extra “sunlight” in over this period. A lamp like this one HERE can be picked up cheaply and used when working at your computer or eating breakfast, so doesn’t need to be a chore and could make a big difference in your mood.
5. Eat well and stay hydrated
Sticking to a well balanced diet over the winter months will help to maintain your immune system as continuing to consume sufficient levels of vitamins and nutrients will help fight off any nasty infections. Try and keep your plate colourful with different fruits and vegetables sticking to what is in season. Adding things like turmeric and ginger to your food will give you a boost of natural anti-inflammatories. It is inevitable that you will be eating mince pies and chocolate this time of year but try to remember that sugary foods are highly inflammatory, so can potentially increase musculoskeletal pain and weaken your immunity! Aim to drink 2-3 litres of water per day to keep your body hydrated. Water also regulates your body temperature and body weight alongside preventing your skin from drying out in the cold weather. HERE are some suggestions from Mark on how to spice up your water to make it a bit more interesting.
So, the bottom line is to make sure you enjoy your food and drink this time of year but be mindful and make sure it is well balanced to keep you healthy and fighting off nasty infections!
Adam Harrison, Sports Therapist