Top tips to get you through winter
Friday, 27 July 2012 10:11

rhumeIf your mind and body have gone into hibernation this winter, it doesn't take too much effort to get healthy and active again.

From having your vitamin D levels checked, to being aware of 'grazing' habits, to finding a physical activity you enjoy – experts from Jean Hailes for Women's Health have come up with some winter survival tips to keep you healthy during the colder months.

"For a lot of people, winter can be a time of cold, dark, rainy days, of illness, and of lowered mood. There are, however, some strategies to help reduce these effects of winter," says Professor Jane Fisher, Jean Hailes director of research.

"For example, look after yourself with healthy meals such as warming soups and hearty casseroles packed with vitamin-rich vegetables and iron-boosting meat.

"If you are not able to get out in the winter sunshine, perhaps a vitamin D supplement might be worthwhile in the colder months. Vitamin D is important for maintaining bone health, as well as reducing the likelihood of symptoms such as lowered mood and fatigue when vitamin D levels are too low."

Take the opportunity during winter to catch up on any routine screening tests, too, such as mammograms or Pap smears.

Jean Hailes endocrinologist, Dr Sonia Davison, recommends finding a form of exercise that you enjoy during winter. Exercise has been shown to improve mood by increasing 'feel good' chemicals – endorphins – in the body.

"Even though it's cold and dark, exercise will help you look and feel good. Find something fun such as dancing, zumba or walking the dog and mix it up so you don't get bored. Get a friend involved as this will help you stay committed," says Dr Davison.

Avoiding too much comfort food is just as important as avoiding too much time on the couch. Winter is the time when it is easy to fall into the trap of indulging in heavy, warming, calorie-rich foods that often have a nostalgic appeal – such as lasagne, fried foods, pies and chocolate treats. Grazing is another winter pitfall, says Jean Hailes dietitian Terrill Bruere.

"If you are curling up in front of the TV and are looking for comfort and warmth, try a cup of tea or chai with a couple of plain biscuits," she says.

"Want the taste of chocolate? Look for a low-fat hot chocolate mix or have a small piece of dark chocolate. The main thing is not to graze without being aware of what you are eating.

"Think seasonal, too. Mandarins, oranges and lemons are lovely at this time of year and full of vitamin C. Root veggies like beetroot, parsnip and pumpkin are in season and make great soup ingredients or simply roast them with a dash of oil."

If you like a warm dessert to take away the winter chill, try stewed fruits or crumbles with low fat custard or yoghurt. But don't eat dessert straight after dinner when you aren't really hungry - wait until suppertime or afternoon tea the next day.

"Monitor your weight every now and then and if it is creeping up keep a diary of what you are eating and why for a week," says Bruere.

"Then fine tune your food intake to prevent the kilo creep."