Feeling more tired than usual? Cold weather and darker evenings getting you down? Vitality GP Dr Dawn shares everything you need to know to feel healthy and happy through the colder months
It’s proven that most of us can experience lower moods in the winter months, with 2 million people in the UK suffering from ‘the winter blues’ or seasonal affective disorder. Grey days make us feel less motivated, cold and flu season sets in and the countdown to Christmas can cause lots of unnecessary pressure.
If winter is making you feel low, here are seven ways you can give yourself a boost…
1. Combat colds by… keeping your hands to yourself
While we’re no closer to curing the common cold, we do know that it’s spread via coughing and sneezing and by touching contaminated surfaces. “Viruses can live on surfaces for several hours,” says Dr Dawn. “Practise good hygiene and make sure you’re washing your hands regularly during the cold and flu season.” Try not to touch your nose and eyes unless you have to, as this will help the virus spread, too.
“If you have a cold, frequently change tissues and dispose of these carefully to avoid others coming into contact with the infection,” advises Dr Dawn. “You can also avoid drinking from the same cup or glass as your family and friends.”
2. Shake off winter tiredness by… heading outdoors
“While we often feel more tired and sluggish during the winter, and you may feel like you need more sleep, there’s no scientific evidence to prove this is the case,” says Dr Dawn. Rather than changing your normal routine, try to keep up healthy exercise and diet habits.
“Get outside for runs or walks as often as you can,” she advises. “This will help to keep levels of melatonin down – levels increase when we get less exposure to sunlight, and higher levels can make you sleepy.
“You don’t need supplements such as iron unless you have evidence of a true deficiency. Instead, just maintain a good healthy diet with plenty of fruit and veg. I’d suggest using winter vegetables to prepare warming meals such as stews and soups.”
3. Fight flu with… a vaccine
In winter, we’re more likely to catch flu, with the season peaking in January and February. “Flu symptoms include aching muscles, shivering and feeling generally unwell, including coughing, sneezing and a runny nose,” explains Dr Dawn. “More cases of flu are predicted this winter.”
Protect yourself by booking in for a flu vaccine. “This is especially important for those at high risk, including pregnant women or younger children,” says Dr Dawn. “Remember that a flu injection is needed every year, as they are developed to boost immunity according to the current circulating strains.”
It’s also important to get enough sleep each night in the wintertime. “Prolonged sleep deprivation reduces your immunity and makes you more prone to picking up flu and colds,” she advises.
4. Boost your mood with… a winter workout routine
Cosying up indoors and ditching the workout plan might feel tempting, but keeping active in winter can work wonders for your mood. According to the NHS, a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day could be as helpful as light treatment for coping with the winter blues. This is because exercising outdoors both increases ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your brain and exposes your body to more vitamin D.
Bad weather but still want to blast the calories? Try our 7-minute HIIT videos that you can fit into even the busiest festive period.
5. Stay calm through the festive period by… managing time expectations
If you’re feeling more frazzled than festive in the build up to Christmas, consider a little forward planning so you feel more in control. Try making lists for everything from gift-buying to Christmas baking and prep so you can tick off as you go, and schedule in time for yourself.
Similarly, the key could be letting go a bit more. “Try to accept the things you can’t change,” advises Dr Dawn. Instead, pick and choose your Christmas activities – don’t want to spend hours Christmas card writing? Send your festive wishes with Paperless Post in a few clicks. Swap endless Christmas drinks for pamper nights or fit in some meditation during your Christmas shopping with Headspace’s 15-minute walking meditation podcast.
6. Keep joints healthy with… a clever diet
“We feel less inclined to keep mobile and active during winter, and this could be why we often complain about joints feeling more stiff,” says Dr Dawn.
“You might want to consider cod liver oil or glucosamine supplements in the colder months, though further research needs to be done to prove their direct benefits,” she suggests. According to Arthritis Research UK, vitamin E can also help to prevent damage in the cells of your bones and joints, so try wheatgerm, nuts and seeds, which are all rich in the vitamin. Always check with your GP before taking supplements or making big changes to your diet.
7. Dodge skin problems with… moisturiser and SPF
“Skin can become dry in the winter, so you need to remember to moisturise regularly after a bath or shower to seal the moisture in,” says Dr Dawn. “Avoid overly hot bath and showers as they can dry out the skin.”
“Wear gloves when it’s cold outside to slow moisture evaporation from your skin and use lip balms to avoid dry lips. Don’t forget to choose one with SPF as even the winter sun can still have an effect.”
Feeling more tempted by comfort foods and sugary treats this winter? Read our 7 genius ways to beat the winter weight creep.