Diet and fitness steps you can take now to help you stay healthy through winter
Are you worried that your health will suffer now that the colder weather has begun to set in? Take action now to keep well during the winter months ahead, writes Abi Jackson
AUTUMN is here, folks. The good news: time to dust off those boots and jumpers. The not-so-good news: time for the annual onslaught of winter bugs and feeling generally under the weather.
But it doesn't have to be that way – well not entirely, at least. While you can't completely avoid catching bugs and colds, you can give your immune system a helping hand (and no, that doesn't mean shoving a load of 'vitamin-boost' fizzy tablets in your drawer to guzzle when you're run down).
Here, Rob Hobson, Healthspan nutritionist and author of Detox Kitchen Bible Cookbook, and personal trainer Mollie Millington, share top tips for the exercise and diet tweaks to make now to keep you well through winter...
1. Embrace the season
A healthy, balanced diet is key for good health – but do you find it easier to eat healthily during summertime? Making the switch to winter doesn't have to mean letting all those healthy habits slip. "Swapping berries and salads for root vegetables, apples and pears is just as healthy," says Rob. "The problem is that the cold weather and dark evenings often leave us craving comfort foods that we find nurturing.
"Smoothies are still a great way to top up your breakfast, and eggs or porridge are perfect if you're looking for something warming. Try making warm salads by incorporating some cooked grains. Also, use stocks, tomatoes and yoghurt in place of cream when making stews and casseroles – and tuck into all those lovely winter veggies!" Carrots, pumpkins, beetroots; autumn's seasonal veg make it really easy to 'eat the rainbow', often cited as a great way to ensure you're consuming a good range of nutrients.
2. Be supplement savvy
Lots of us only think about packing in extra vitamins once we actually feel unwell, but our immune systems function best if they're supported continually, so consider starting to take a quality multivitamin now, if you don't already.
"You want to try and maintain a strong immune system so that it's able to deal with the bugs and colds that are thrown at it during the winter months. You don't really 'boost' your immune system as such, but make it more efficient and able to do its job," explains Rob. "As a general all-rounder, a multivitamin and mineral is a good, cost-effective way to fill any shortfalls in your diet, and supply you with the nutrients typically associated with immunity, such as zinc and vitamin C.
"There are some nutrients that are typically lacking in the diet during winter, such as vitamin D, so I would advise taking this from October onwards," he adds. "You may also want to think about taking a probiotic as your gut bacteria is very involved in immunity."
3. Get spicy
'Tis the season of hearty soups, stews and casseroles, and spices are an easy way to add some oomph in the healthiness – as well as the taste – stakes. Take inspiration from your favourite coffee shop chains and add warming spices to hot drinks, porridge and breakfast smoothies. "I am a big fan of incorporating lots of spices into your diet all year round.
There is always one for every occasion, dish or drink," says Rob. "Spices not only contain a good source of minerals, such as iron, magnesium and calcium, but many contain anti-inflammatory compounds, such as cir cumin, found in turmeric."
4. Switch to lunchtime workouts
Being physically active also plays a vital role in helping your immune system do its job. If you know the dark mornings and evenings are going to hamper your usual workout regime, switch things up and make the most of lunchtimes and early afternoons to fit in some exercise. Circumstances permitting, check out afternoon classes at nearby gyms ("Many gyms offer cheaper classes during the day, as the classes are less popular," notes Mollie) or make use of nearby parks for jogging.
You could even work in some HIIT and yoga sessions without having to leave the office or spend any money – thanks to the internet and wealth of free fitness videos on YouTube.
"There are 100-plus free workouts on my website (ptmollie.com) that require little or no gym equipment. They take 15 minutes, so you could also do these at work on your lunch break with colleagues," says Mollie.
5. Don't let the weather stop you getting outside
Invest in suitable footwear and a waterproof jacket and you'll never need to let the weather stop you from getting outdoors to walk. If walking to work isn't an option, or it's too dark, Mollie suggests getting in a little earlier "and then use 30 minutes before work to walk briskly around your office building". And if you're saving for Christmas, long weekend walks are a great way to help save money.
"An activity tracker or phone app that counts the number of steps you take a day can also be a good motivator," adds Mollie.