How to stay healthy this winter

As the days get shorter, our thoughts typically turn to hunkering down with a bowl of something warm rather than a salad. Often, exercise is sacrificed for nights spent indoors on the couch.

Here, Rob Hobson, nutritionist and co-author of The Detox Kitchen Bible cookbook, outlines the exercise and diet tweaks to make now to keep you well through winter.

1. Embrace the season
A healthy, balanced diet is key to good health – but do you find it easier to eat healthily during summer?

The colder temperatures and reduced daylight hours can influence what foods we reach for without even realising it. Researchers speculate that the start of winter can trigger an evolutionary impulse that tells us to fatten up to survive the tough environmental conditions that are heading our way. One study, published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that participants consumed more fat and saturated fat during the winter months. The results also showed that participants consumed an extra 86 calories per day on average during autumn, compared to spring.

But making the switch to winter doesn’t have to mean letting those healthy habits you’ve implemented in summer slip. “Swapping berries and salads for root vegetables, apples and pears is just as healthy,” says Mr Hobson. “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 vegies!” Carrots, cauliflower, beetroot; 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
Many people only think about packing in extra vitamins once you actually feel unwell, but your immune system functions best if its supported continually. “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 Mr Hobson. “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 autumn 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. 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 Mr Hobson. “Spices not only contain a good source of minerals, such as iron, magnesium and calcium, but many contain anti-inflammatory compounds, such as curcumin, found in turmeric.”

Winter food doesn’t have to be loaded with extra cheese and fat for flavour, spices are a great way to get that warming feeling without the extra calories. In fact, many foods associated with cold weather can make very healthy options, broth-based soups, squash and roasted vegies are all taken up a notch with a sprinkle of herbs and spices.

4. Switch to lunchtime workouts and walks
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. Getting out in the middle of the day may also help to boost levels of vitamin D in the body.

Circumstances permitting, check out afternoon classes at nearby gyms or make use of nearby parks for jogging. Some gyms may offer cheaper membership for use only at off-peak times.

5. Don’t let the weather stop you moving
Longer evenings are often paired with watching TV and snacking on the couch, but remember – any type of movement is better than none. Try to get up every hour to stretch, and do jobs around the house throughout the day. Whether that’s digging in the garden or sorting out the spare room, it all counts.

If you’re determined to still get your exercise in the form of outdoor walks, invest in suitable footwear and a good jacket, and you’ll never need to let the weather stop you from getting out the door. An activity tracker or phone app that counts the number of steps you take a day can also be a good motivator.

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