You may think that this post has arrived a little late… we are already half way through winter right? But as the days continue to exist in a short and often dark manner, the nights remain colder and there are most definitely more germs in the air. At this time of year, our general surroundings, the colder temperatures, and frequent interactions with ‘sick’ others, most definitely presents a greater chance of contracting infectious bacteria or viruses
Don’t get me wrong… there are certainly things to love about the colder winter months. The warming cups of hot chocolate sipped in cosy cafes with friends, curling up into bed while the rain patters lightly on the roof above you… indulging in big bowls of comforting soup and warm home baking fresh out the oven. These are the perks, only to name a few.
Unfortunately however, getting right the way through winter without contracting some form of sickness is rare for most of us. Often, it feels like we have done so well, making it 90% of the way through winter. Yet finally, as the spring air approaches, you somehow manage to come down with a cold or flu. The most horrific, draining virus that feels like you have literally has the shit knocked out of you. Yeah… I’m sure you know the feeling.
Fortunately for you, below I have constructed a list of steps and precautions that you can take to boost your immune system. Not all of them are ‘medically’ based, some of the tips shared below are simply a result of my personal past experiences. You have probably seen about 1000 of these posts over the past few months, telling you what to do and what not to do, in order to stay healthy. Never the less, I hope that the rest of winter treats all of you well, and if you are beginning to feel slightly off… read below to find out some of my personal tips to avoid the winter slump.
Drinking enough water is a habit and ritual super important to maintain all year round. However, if you naturally feel the cold, and the air remains fresh outside, knocking back a big bottle of H20 is going to be the last thing on your mind. If you are struggling to consume enough water during winter, try experimenting with new herbal teas, or whip up your own hot water with lemon, honey and ginger. Another tip: drinking warm coffee, while super pleasant, is not in fact…drinking water. It will dehydrate you, and on top of a lack of water, can leave you feeling very flat (in particular in the afternoon hours).
While drinking water is important, you can also keep up fluids by creating healthy broths and water-based soups. Think asian pho or spicy broths, with noodles and fresh steamed veggies; or create warm and nutritious vegetable based soups blended with water rather than dairy products.
Reduce your Dairy Intake
Recently I have been seeing a nutritionist who has provided me with an amazing insight into dairy and its effects on our bodies. Now don’t go jumping the gun, I still consume dairy products (just not very frequently). However, it is important to note that dairy products have a chemical make up that stimulates the production of histamines within our body, and mucous (yes I am referring to SNOT ewww). Have you ever had that uncomfortable ache in your facial muscles beneath your cheeks when you get sick? This is a result of sinus pressure (mucous). And no one wants that clogged feeling in their face or head. Without eliminating dairy completely (unless this is what you already choose to do), it has been suggested to lay of the dairy slightly more during winter months, as it often contributes to the severity to allergies and inflammation.
Up your Vitamin C Intake.
Consumption of Vitamin C can be an incredibly important tool for our bodies immune system during winter. While studying part time nutrition papers last year, I learnt just how powerful this versatile vitamin can be. It has been suggested that anywhere above 3,000mg of Vitamin C supplementation per day can improve our overall immune function. Not only this, but further studies have suggested that cold symptoms often lessen in severity and duration upon increased intake. Most vitamin C supplements can be found at your local chemist or supermarkets – however I highly suggest talking to your chemist to ensure you are getting a high enough dosage and not just sugary little gummy bears (oh how we love…).
Vitamin C is also found in many natural dietary sources, such as oranges and citrus fruits, capsicums, and dark green leafy veggies. Kiwifruit and grapefruits also have a high content per gram, along with tomatoes, berries and broccoli.
Magnesium is not only an amazing mineral for aiding muscle relaxation and rehabilitation, but is also highly recommended for those suffering from anxiety and lack of sleep. From previous experience taking magnesium and after a long period of time, I have been lucky enough to notice multiple changes benefiting my mental and physical wellbeing.
I have found that including magnesium into my daily routine has helped me to find more peace, both mentally and physically. Particularly in the evenings, or during winter days when more time is naturally spent inside, our brains are incredibly active beings. Including mineral magnesium can help to diminish this often un-beneficial stress and anxiety to a more maintainable level, and also unlocks stressed muscles.
The notion of cabin fever hits hardest during winter months, and work stress, lack of outside air, and various other jobs that loom over our heads can lead to a very stressed state and lack of motivation. Sometimes even the smallest of tasks seem too much and days seem long. This is probably a sign that your adrenal glands are stressed, glands that control our body’s stress mechanisms and metabolism, and including minerals such as magnesium directly target this process and aid stress maintenance and mood.
Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands throughout the day, wherever and whenever, is super important in order to stay healthy. The act of washing your hands not only stops germs from spreading between individuals, but is also one of the most effective ways to avoid sickness. I sometimes find that keeping an anti-bacterial handy in your bag aids this process, as you really cannot fathom just how many germs you come into contact with on a daily basis, particularly in winter when nasties are everywhere.
Eat the Rainbow
If you are lucky enough to live like I do, and have access to a weekly farmers market full of fresh produce, then this is not the time to quit going! Get ya raincoat on and get out there! Winter is not the season for particular fruits and veggies, but filling up on lots of colourful produce really will do wonders for your body! Plus… if you are anything like me, eating colourful things is way more fun anyway.
During winter there is a lot less sunlight and time spent outside, meaning that our access to natural Vitamin D and minerals is decreased. Due to this, we can often feel sluggish and overtired (from being stuck inside all day). Whether you are buying frozen or fresh produce, including a wide variety of fruit and vegetables ensures that our bodies can get all essential vitamins and minerals necessary for everyday function. Winter is glorious for root vegetables… think carrots, parsnips, beetroot etc. Roasted vegetable salad hallelujah! Farmers markets will also be stocked with kale, broccoli and cauliflower, as well as other essential wintery vegetables such as pumpkin and sweet potato. For fruits, opt for fresh oranges or anything citrus, kiwifruit, apples, and pears.
During the winter months, it is almost inevitable that we are naturally more sedentary. Therefore, keeping active in winter is incredibly important for your overall wellness and happiness. Creating a regular workout routine will work for some, and is often a prime booster for your immunity (naturally when fitness levels increase, you will feel lighter, more efficient, and ready to take on each task ahead). Exercising and increasing your immunity also reduces the risk of cold and flu, because you are generally getting outside of your comfortable, warm environments; which are a safe haven for germ reproduction and development. And additionally, if you are like me and REALLY feel the cold during these months, exercise is an automatic heat source!
If you struggle to find the motivation to get up on cold mornings, try organising workouts with a buddy or someone who you are accountable. If you really aren’t feeling the outside weather, opt for a workout that leaves you no excuse for weather dependence (indoor activities such as yoga, gym classes, pilates). I have recently been trying to focus on these forms of exercise, and despite only having done a few classes, really do feel a lot more motivated to go out and work out when I know I will feel great afterwards and am learning new things. Plus…you can’t be cold inside right?
Lately I have really noticed just how powerful our brains are at controlling our daily outlook. Starting your day in a positive mind frame can do wonders for your entire wellbeing, while being negative and moody thoughts can and WILL do the opposite for you. My dad always reminds me… Seasonal Affective Disorder is a reality, and it can affect a lot more than just your everyday mood. Feeling low from your surroundings can lead to feelings of irritability, depression, fatigue, physical discomfort, and being uncomfortable in your own skin.
Even though it may seem like the last thing on your mind, I have found that the best way to overcome these feelings is to get outside daily, and ensure you are eating foods that make you feel great inside and out. Listening to uplifting music is great, and try include fresh herbs in your diet for a fresh, fun hit of flavour. Focusing on eating and feeling positive can be incredibly tough, particularly if it involves having to get out of a warm bed on a cold, winter day. Opt for high calcium and magnesium foods, which will aid any SAD-related moods, and do things that make you feel good (despite the weather). If its the weather that is preventing you from doing something, LAYER UP! Get on with it! Make it a challenge to see how many layers you can achieve before you look like a marshmallow (believe me I am an expert at this). Overall, find foods that make you feel good, push yourself to get outside and do the things you regularly love, and surround yourself with positive people that keep you healthy and happy.