Most of us know very well exactly what this time of year can be like and the impact it can have on our body and mind. With the winter months upon us and a new year fast approaching, it’s very tempting to put life on hold and retreat into the warmth and comfort of our homes. In many parts of the world, living only starts again in Spring which is a real shame.
Wishing life away is the ultimate waste and so it’s fundamental to do what we can to feel good and enjoy life no matter what time of year it is.
So here are a few suggestions to help get you through winter and out the other end, largely unscathed:
Consider What You Eat
A good meal leaves us with that warm and fuzzy feeling. There is a name for the warming effect generated by food; it’s called thermogenesis – and I can personally vouch for craving some serious thermogenesis in colder climates. Studies show that we do tend to eat more in winter which makes sense as our body temperatures drop and we need to create heat and energy to bring it back up.
There are often more treats around at Christmas time, days are shorter and nights are longer and as Seasonal Affective Disorder kicks in, it’s not surprising we turn to food for psychological comfort too. In the summer months we feel satisfied by lighter meals. However, come winter we crave what the Scots call ‘stodge’ – filling, warming, satisfying grub! As a result, it’s not unusual to struggle with losing the weight we gain over winter. And although perhaps no more than a kilo or two, over the years these kilos add up.
So let’s be mindful of what we’re consuming and realistic about what we need. If we try and face a cold winter’s day on a stomach full of coffee followed by a salad for lunch, we’ll no doubt be reaching for that emergency chocolate bar pretty soon. But if we plan our meals ahead and are realistic about the type of food we need to remain satisfied, we’re more likely to save the emergency treats for more desperate times and avoid the unnecessary weight gain we know we’ll struggle with later on.
The Need For Water
We tend to drink less fluids when it’s cold. However, we’re mostly water and remain so for 12 months of the year so it makes sense to keep hydrated all year round too. It’s important to always keep an eye on how much fluid we drink but more so at the extremes of climate. It’s not unusual to confuse thirst with hunger and be fooled into having a snack when what we really need is a big tall glass of H2O.
A good way of monitoring hydration is to look at the colour of urine before flushing – the darker it is the more dehydrated we are and vice versa. It’s also worth remembering the drying and dehydrating effects of heating, which are often overlooked but are even more of a reason to keep drinking.
Go Outside, Keep Moving
There are beautiful bright days, even in winter. So take the opportunity to go outside and soak it up. We need sunshine for Vitamin D which is essential for everything from bone health to immune health. It’s normal for vitamin D levels to drop over winter and to be replenished in the summer but if we can get a little winter sun it’s not only good for vitamin D levels but also for wellbeing.
Being outdoors, particularly in green surroundings or by the sea can have a positive effect on low mood, stress and anxiety. It’s important to keep active over winter, ideally most adults should be aiming for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity physical activity and these recommendations don’t vary according to the time of year.
We can tell when we’re doing moderate intensity activity without a heart rate monitor or app as we start to feel warmer, breathe harder and our heart pumps faster.
Sometimes Looks Do Matter
We cover up more in the cold, layering whatever we can to keep warm. As less is on display and we’re hidden under big, bulky winter coats, it’s very tempting to not prioritise our body and let things slip. But if we don’t look after ourselves, we won’t feel good about ourselves. Remembering to look after our body and maintaining personal upkeep can have a bigger impact on our subconscious mind than we realise and we should give them the importance they deserve. Although no one may see much of us, we certainly will, and therefore we need to make sure we’re looking at something we like the look of.
So rather than hibernating and hiding away from the world for a large part of the year, embrace it and make the most of it. Our healthy habits shouldn’t change significantly just because the seasons do. In fact, sometimes the colder months can be a great opportunity to kick start a healthier lifestyle because if we can do it then, we can do it anytime.
Dr Yasmin Ohlsson MBChB MRCGP is a Family Medicine doctor with a specialist interest in Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine, an accredited coach and a nutrition advisor. She is a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners and the International Coach Federation. Dr Ohlsson is founder and director at Neamedica, a health and lifestyle consultancy based in the UAE. She also works in London as a Family Medicine doctor and in Cyprus where she teaches for the St George’s University London medical programme. Dr Ohlsson is a country representative and ambassador for the European Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
You can follow her on Twitter @NEAMEDICA or drop by http://www.neamedica.com/ for ideas, information and inspiration (or just to say hello!)