As the days get shorter, the darker evenings draw in. Your next adventure or major sporting event seems a way off, even the most disciplined of us can struggle with motivation to get out and enjoy being outside. With more time indoors, our immune systems inevitably have to work a little harder to fight off the diversity of bugs and infections that are around this time of year.
So is there anything we can do to winter-proof our lives and ensure we support our immune health through these winter months? #TeamMontane’s Renee McGregor, a sports and clinical Dietitian, shares her advice…
Load up on Nutrient Dense Meals
Before you roll your eyes, this doesn’t mean slaving away for hours over a hot stove; a few years ago, I invested in a slow cooker, and it made such a huge difference in my life. By putting aside as little as 10-15 minutes you can prepare all the ingredients you are going to throw into the slow cooker. Use a variety of seasonal vegetables to make soups, casseroles and even curries. Knowing that you’ve got a delicious and nutritious meal ready and waiting when you get in from a long day at work can boost the motivation you need to squeeze in some form of physical activity, before hunkering down in front of the fire.
Supplement With Vitamin D
Trying to absorb sufficient sunlight to produce Vitamin D is a challenge even during Summer in the UK, and pretty much impossible during winter. Vitamin D is the go-to nutrient to help protect your immune function and mood. There are very few foods that provide you with Vitamin D so this one nutrient I would recommend you supplement this through the winter months. The general maintenance dose is 2000 IU a day, but this may need to be higher, or lower, depending on your blood levels.
Think Gut Health
Numerous studies demonstrate the link between having a healthy gut biome and our immune health. In general, the more diverse your gut biome, the healthier you are. Wholegrains, fruits vegetables and fermented foods are all important to include to encourage a healthy gut biome. In addition, Science has also shown that including a 12-week course in probiotics, ideally those that are water based, can prevent the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in highly active individuals.
We all know that feeling, the temperature plummets, and all we want to do is eat stodge. Wholegrain, complex Carbohydrates are important to include in your diet as they help your muscles work efficiently, support recovery, gut, bone, and hormonal health. They are also a great source of most B vitamins that have been shown to reduce the severity and/or incidence of anxiety. Another great reason to tuck into hearty stews and soups with large chunks of fresh bread during this season. Aim for 1/3 of a plate at every meal of wholegrain nutrient-dense carbs such as sweet potato, pasta, rice, oats, and bread.
While over the summer months, it can be easy to keep on top of your hydration. But as the temperatures plummet, reaching for a cold drink can be the last thing on your mind. However, being hydrated encourages saliva production and saliva is your first line of defence so it is important to keep on top of this. One tip is to flavour your fluid – use no added sugar squashes or fruit/herbal teas as this can encourage you to drink.
Get Enough Zzzs
Sleep is not overrated. It has been demonstrated in several studies that aiming to get a minimum of 7 hours sleep, but an optimal of 8 hours a night, is necessary to help repair the body both physically and psychologically. Few people know that Growth Hormone, responsible for physical repair is at its highest around 12-2 am. Aiming to get to bed early enough will ensure that you make the most of this, especially as levels start to decline the older, we get.
Try and get into good sleep hygiene practises including avoiding looking at your phone or laptop at least 30 minutes before you go to bed; try reading or even some restorative yoga. You will reap the rewards of more energy through the winter months.