What people often overlook is just how much of an impact their general health and wellbeing has on their musculoskeletal health, pain and performance. Being proactive about your general health and wellbeing in winter will ensure you’re giving yourself the best chance of making it through the cooler months cold and flu-free. And, it will also mean you’ll be in tip-top shape to enjoy the summer when it rolls around again.
We know it’s hard! It can seem impossible to stay motivated when it’s cold and dark of a morning, and even colder and darker by the time you get home from work… BUT your body has to really crank the metabolism and work overtime to get warm, so you can burn more kilojoules on that early morning walk or run. If it’s too cold or wet outside, go to the gym or do laps at an indoor pool where you can reward yourself with a spa or sauna. Heated yoga classes are also a warm alternative to being outdoors when the temperature takes a dive. If that doesn’t float your boat there are all kinds of indoor team sports or even indoor rock climbing… roller-skating… the only limit is your imagination.
The goal of exercise through winter should be to maintain consistency so there’s no need to smash it every session. Drop back on your high intensity training and take it a little easier, we’re not designed to run at full throttle all the time. Slower weights workouts and a little more flexibility work will keep you in good stead for picking up where you left off when the weather fines up come spring.
Healthy winter foods can help keep your immune system in tip top shape so staying well depends on eating well. This winter, focus on making sure you’re eating a healthy diet, jam-packed with fresh fruits and vegetables.
We all love little comfort food in the cold of winter and there really is such a thing as healthy comfort food – keep the bone broths and slow cooked joint cuts of meat on high rotation and you really can’t go far wrong. They’re full of vitamins, minerals, gelatin and amino acids that help repair and maintain our GUT, boost our immune system and fight inflammation. And, when they’re cooked low and slow, they are delicious!
Ratatouille is another healthy winter show stopper, served over a soft polenta or savoury buckwheat porridge, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil…mmmm…full of vegetables, it makes getting your five serves a day easy-peasy. It’s also easy-peasy to make which matters when your body thinks it should be hibernating!
Remember that variety is the spice of life so don’t be afraid to try different meats and always aim to eat a broad variety of vegetables. They all have differing nutritional profiles so mixing in a bit of fish, duck or goat can help you fill nutritional gaps. Applying the same rule to your veg, you can try subbing mashed potatoes for mashed sweet potatoes or pureed cauliflower or parsnip. All delicious and all super healthy winter comfort foods with a different nutritional profile to plain old potatoes.
Want to make a cracking bone broth based soup? Check out Alice’s super-immunity soup
Getting enough good quality sleep is critical for optimal recovery and soft tissue repair and is especially important in the colder months when muscles are colder and less supple. Sleep is also important for regulating our immune and stress responses so sleeping well will give your body a head start on being able to fight off all the nasty bugs you’re no doubt going to come into contact with.
Sleep temperature matters though, tempting as it might be to sleep with the heater on or to pile on the extra blankets – resist! Set the thermostat no higher than 16-18 degrees, this is our biological ideal sleeping temperature. This is the range where your brain will do it’s best work and while you might be resting, your brain is hard at work while you’re asleep. It will be regulating your circadian rhythms, adjusting your stress and immune responses, consolidating memory and regulating your mood.
Dose up on vitamins and minerals
Getting your vitamins and minerals from whole foods is always the best option so when you’re looking for an immune boost, the local farmers market really is the best place to start. Iron, zinc and vitamins C and D are all key to a healthy, well functioning immune system.
Iron – Animal based foods are highest in iron and while many darker beans and vegetables do contain iron, it is in less bio-available forms. You can definitely choose to be vegetarian or vegan and still meet your iron requirements but you will need to be much more thoughtful about it. Liver pate is one of the most delicious ways of getting your iron but black beans and kidney beans are equally delicious and can be made into any number of comforting winter stews.
Zinc – Shellfish, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds are all great ways of getting your zinc. Nuts and seeds can make a great snack but they can also be toasted and added to all kinds of dishes to add a little texture and interest.
Vitamin C – Citrus fruits are synonomous with vitamin c but kiwis, mangos and cantaloupe also pack a punch on the vitamin C front.
Vitamin D – Fatty fish (like mackerel and salmon), cheese and eggs are great sources of vitamin D but there are also some good vegan sources like almonds, mushrooms. Vitamin D doesn’t naturally occur in plant based foods so it’s another nutrient that vegetarians and vegans need to be quite thoughtful about.
With all the heating in offices and shops, trams and trains – it can be very easy to get dehydrated over winter. Aim to drink six to eight glasses of water each day as a ballpark figure. If cold water is unappealing when the mercury dips, try boiled water with a slice of lemon or warming herbal teas. A cup of bone broth can also hit the spot and provide a nutritional boost at the same time.