Top 10 tips on how to stay healthy
There's a few things we can all do to help us stay healthy over the winter period. We asked Nutritional Therapist Charlotte Watts, GP Dr Anuradha Arasu, Psychotherapist Martin Cox MBACP and Holland & Barrett Head Nutritionist Kate Butler for their top tips on keeping that cold away:
1. Get used to the cold
Charlotte Watts, Nutritional Therapist and yoga teacher says "turning up the heating can dampen a metabolism that expects to have to work harder to keep you warm in cold times.
"Thermogenesis (heat-creation) is the body mechanism that you really want to encourage as it promotes the natural fat-burning that keep us warm in the winter, rather than the fat-storage tendencies of those who stay sedentary and overly warm.
"It doesn’t take long to get used to one less layer or the thermostat down two or three notches and you’ll feel less sluggish."
2. Go easy on the booze and fags
An obvious one perhaps and maybe easier said than done this time of year but according to GP Dr Anuradha Arasu "both alcohol and cigarette smoke interfere with the functions of many of the cells and molecules that are part of the immune system."
Make sure you give yourself a break from partying to recover and repair. Drink plenty of water and if you haven't already, put "quit smoking" at the top of your resolution list... don't even wait for New Year start now!
3. Raise your mood
"Winter can bring on or make worse the symptoms of depression as many people become less active, spend less time out and about and socialise less." Says UKRCP Registered Independent Counsellor/Psychotherapist Martin Cox MBACP ( Accred.)
Depression and the associated sleep disorders have been proven to have a detrimental effect on our immune systems making it easier for us to pick up cold and flu viruses. It's important to keep your mental state sunny even if the weather is grey and miserable.
Cox recommends eating healthily, socialising, persuing your hobbies and exercising preferably outside. "If you are still feeling low, consider a talking therapy", he says, "Talking things through with a professional can really help to get your thoughts in order and regain some sense of control over your mood again."
4. Reduce consumption of refined white sugar
Another one easier said than done. Kate Butler, Head Nutrionist at Holland & Barrett says: "A high intake of refined sugars can negatively impact the immune system. Not only does it impair the ability of white blood cells in eliminating bacteria, it also robs the body of key nutrients such as the mineral zinc which plays a key role in maintaining the normal function of the immune system."
Consider a zinc supplement over the winter if you've got a sweet tooth!
5. Eat a healthy diet
All our experts agree on this one! "Eating vitamin-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains enriches your diet with antioxidants and makes sure you are getting enough nutrients and micronutrients" says Dr Arasu.
Watts advises eating healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, eggs and free-range meats to keep away the sugar cravings and help our bodies to burn rather than store fat.
"Eat your winter greens" she continues. "Get plenty of the big bulky ones like kale and cavolo nero provide a whole host of vitamins, minerals, antioxidant carotenoids and soluble fibre that help support good digestion and detoxification; the root of strong immunity through the cold months."
Butler adds protein to the list. "Protein is a building block for a healthy mind, body and immune system" she says
, "Diets low in protein often tend to be higher in refined carbohydrates, which convert to sugar more readily and burdens the immune system."
6. Support your gut
Kate Butler is also keen to praise the benefits of probiotics! "Much of the immune system is located within the gut, acting as a barrier to pathogenic substances" she says.
"Regularly consuming live yoghurt or supplementing with probiotics may therefore help to maintain a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria and support the function of the gut immune system."
Consider prebiotics too. Your body can't digest them so the good bacteria gets straight to your gut!
7. Get some sunlight
Watts insists that getting outside is key to good health: "Keep seeing some sunlight - preferably 10-15 mins daily on bare skin to keep up serotonin and vitamin D levels, both of which are crucial for the good mental health that also helps with the motivation to stay active when it’s cold out."
Dr Arasu admits that we don't yet know why exercise helps the immune system but that doesn't mean it won't do you some good!
"Some theories are that physical activity helps flush out bacteria by increasing output of waste products, reducing stress hormones and increasing the circulation of infection-fighting cells" says Dr Arasu, "20-30mins of brisk walking 5days a week can boost the antibody and natural killer (T cell) response."
9. Allow yourself some R&R
Fortunately Rest and relaxation are just as important as exercise. Yay!
"Depression anxiety, and secondary symptoms such as fatigue and sleep problems harm the immune system", says Dr Arasu, "Try yoga or tai chi, breathing exercises or simply walking and appreciating natural beauty to reduce stress."
"Lifestyle also impacts on the immune system," agrees Butler, "a lack of sleep, late nights, poor dietary habits, stress and fatigue can all compromise immunity. It is important to listen to your body; ensure you eat well, pace yourself, take time to relax, avoid exertion beyond your limits and get enough mental and physical rest."
10. Get a good night's sleep
"Our immune response is suppressed and we develop less antibodies to certain vaccines when we are sleep-deprived", says Dr Arasu, "so the more all-nighters you pull, the more likely you are to decrease your body’s ability to respond to colds."
Dr Arasu advises going to sleep at the same time every day to train your body to get a better night's rest.
"Don’t spend hours on your computer or watching tv in bed and avoid caffeine after midday in order to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep." He says.