Don't wait until New Year to give yourself a winter health reboot – do it now
Forget new year resolutions – the best time to overhaul your habits is the start of winter. Liz Connor asks the experts for their top tips
IT CAN be tempting to spend winter hibernating on the sofa with a glass of wine, your only exercise the slow shuffle to and from the fridge in between Netflix episodes. This usually comes to a painful head in January, when you are faced with the prospect of overhauling your bad habits, while battling the post-party-season blues.
That's why now is secretly the best time to get your health mojo back. You'll keep the indulgences (and the financial burden) of the festive period in check, and in doing so, get into good shape for when New Year rolls around.
Here, three health and wellness experts reveal their top tips for keeping motivated and giving yourself a winter health reboot.
1. Have an alternative spring clean
Many of us traditionally celebrate the end of winter with a spring clean, but why not start as you mean to to go by doing the same as winter looms?
"Clear out your cupboards and stock up on the foods that will help to promote winter wellness and give you the ingredients to create delicious dishes that will support your body's health as the temperature drops," advises nutritionist Rob Hobson. "Nourishing grains such as barley and spelt, as well as pulses and beans, lend themselves perfectly to healthy winter dishes such as stews, casseroles, soups and warm salads."
Spices such as cinnamon, smoked paprika, turmeric, raw cacao and chilli powder can also offer warming flavours that help nurture our sense of winter wellbeing, he adds. The key to eating "winter well", says Rob, is having all the ingredients you need to create healthy, comforting meals that include earthy, rich flavours to satisfy your mood and promote good health.
2. Keep an Instagram diary
We've all heard that Instagram can be toxic for our mental health, contributing to feelings of anxiety, self-doubt and body-image worries, but there are ways you can use the social network as a force for good when it's pouring with rain outside.
"Use Instagram as a gratitude diary by taking a photo every day of something you feel grateful for," says health psychologist Dr Meg Aroll. "Studies have shown that appreciating and noting down what we are thankful for enhances our overall satisfaction with life and lifts mood, leading us to feel more refreshed in the mornings and increasing the amount of time we spend exercising. If you're not a fan of social media, you could simply write down three things each morning that you feel grateful for."
3. Eat for the weather
When the weather's gloomy and you're feeling depressed, it can can really impact on your appetite and food choices, which may leave you lacking in essential nutrients. It's also a common season for overloading on stodgy and sugary foods, such as takeaways and desserts, for comfort.
"Food is not a cure, but making healthy choices can help and good nutrition is proven to benefit mental health," says Rob. "Make sure you eat regularly and follow a low GI diet by including protein, healthy fats and plenty of veggies at every meal, to help balance blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full and energised."
He suggests topping up on B vitamins with wholegrains, oily fish, eggs, and dark green leafy vegetables that help to convert food into energy, and support a healthy nervous system.
A final tip? Take a daily vitamin D3 supplement to keep your spirits high.
"Low vitamin D levels are common during winter months, as we struggle to get what we need from the lack of sunshine, and this can increase your risk of low mood and seasonal depression," Rob notes. "Try to eat plenty of tryptophan-rich foods, such as oats, bananas, turkey and tofu. The amino-acid tryptophan is converted in the brain to the 'feel-good' hormone serotonin."
4. Try getting out for a run
Running in winter can instantly put you into a cheery mood, thanks to a quick hit of feelgood hormones.
"Snuggling on the sofa might sound appealing, but don't forget that winter is a great time of year to get outside, wrap up warm and enjoy the fresh air," says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Dan Robertson.
"In fact, a bracing winter breeze can actually be quite invigorating and prompt your body to release endorphins, which reduce your pain response and will put you in a great mood."