Winter Wellness: Top 10 Tips
Dark when you go to work. Dark when you leave work. Summer seems an age ago. You're not sure when you were last really warm. Hibernation begins to look very attractive. It can be all too easy to become low and miserable in the depths of winter.
Here are my top tips for feeling good this winter.
1. Keep your home comfortable. It is strange that a room at 20C can feel comfortable in summer, but cold in winter, so you may feel tempted to turn up the thermostat higher than necessary. This may make you feel wonderfully toasty, but will then make for a bigger shock when you leave the house. So keep your home warm, but don't overdo it. Before you set the thermostat higher, try taking a very brief walk outside. When you return your home will feel warmer than it did when you left a few minutes earlier.
2. Keep your home aired. Our bodies are constantly shedding small particles of skin and hair, while cooking releases sticky particles that cling to surfaces or just float around. With so many homes fitted with double-glazing the air in your home can get very stale during the winter months. A squirt of air-freshener may make your home smell good, but it only masks this staleness. So throw the windows open in every room for a few minutes every day and let in some fresh air. Bad energy advice but good health advice!.
3. Do move around for a few minutes at least once an hour whether at home or at work. Even a few simple breathing and stretching exercises will improve your blood circulation and generate internal heat. This is particularly important for older people who can feel cold and stiff very easily.
4. Grab the sunshine whenever possible. Even in a very bad winter there will be days when the sun is shining, however weakly. Try to make the most of this. If you work, take a brisk walk at lunchtime. If there is a bright day when you have free time, try to take a longer walk, exposing as much skin as you comfortably can. Sunlight on our skin converts cholesterol into Vitamin D, and is our major source of this vitamin essential for healthy bones and teeth. Also, a dose of sunshine simply feels good and can raise our spirits. If you suffer badly from the 'winter blues' you may have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), in which case buying a lightbox or using daylight bulbs in your home may help.
5. Wear layered clothing whenever you go out. It is very easy to get chilled by not wearing sufficient clothing, especially if you just pop outside for a while. Wear several layers of thin clothing rather than one thick layer; this way you can easily adjust yourself to a comfortable temperature whatever you are doing.
6. Take regular exercise. This is important at all times of the year: the recommendation is 30 minutes of physical activity at least five times a week (any activity where you break into a sweat and get slightly out of breath). Exercise releases endorphins (feel-good hormones), improves your mood and boosts the immune system (giving you added protection from all the winter bugs). When you feel cold and sluggish it can be difficult to summon up the energy to be active. If you have a regular exercise routine, try to maintain it during the winter. If you find it hard to motivate yourself, join a class and buddy up with someone to encourage each other to attend. Don't forget that it doesn't have to be athletic exercise - everyday activities count too: heavy housework; walking the dog; raking up leaves or shovelling snow; making love.
7. Eat well and healthily. At some point every year I start wanting carbohydrates like pasta & potatoes rather than fresh fruit and salad, and I know then that autumn has arrived. It is perfectly normal to want to eat more during the autumn and winter, part of our genetic inheritance to stay alive during the cold and lean months. Many people worry about putting on a lot of weight; this is not inevitable, although it may require some self-discipline, especially around Christmas with its roasts, cakes and drinks (many people are unaware of the huge calorie content of alcohol). Make sure you balance rich foods with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Keep your cupboards well-stocked to avoid the temptation to order in a takeaway, and check out the many websites offering suggestions for dishes that are both tasty and healthy. With a little bit of thought and effort you can enjoy your food without feeling more stuffed than the turkey.
8. Be sociable. With the short days and cold dark evenings it can be all too easy to stay at home and put your social life on hold until the spring. But socialising is very good for our mental health, and spending time with friends can help lift our spirits enormously. So try not to give in to any tendency to go into complete isolation.
9. Find a new interest. The dark days of winter can seem endless and be dispiriting: spring seems so distant and tomorrow is going to be just another dark day. So try to discover a new hobby or activity that will keep your mind active and stimulated, something that raises your enthusiasm and makes you look forward to your evenings and weekends. A little bit of fresh excitement can be very uplifting.
10. Accept the rhythm. We are creatures of nature, and our rhythms vary from season to season. We do have a natural tendency to be more inward and inactive in winter. This is inconvenient to a modern society, but you can at least show yourself respect by recognising your needs and not placing expectations on yourself to have the same desires and energy levels as in summer.
I hope these 10 tips are useful. But don't force yourself to do anything that doesn't feel right for you. Make your own decisions about what you want and how you want to be. Take anything from these tips that is useful to you and happily discard the rest. Enjoy the dark months as best you can.