We can all find the motivation to throw on our trainers when the pavements are hot, eat healthily when the days are long and meditate our way to holistic bliss when a whole morning can be spent simply soaking up the rays in a local park. But when it’s dark and cold outside, healthy habits can easily go astray.
It’s tempting to spend all winter hibernating on the sofa with a glass of wine, your only exercise being the slow shuffle to and from the fridge in between Netflix episodes. This usually comes to a very painful head in January, when you’re hungover, have a to-do list the size of China back at work – and are faced with the prospect of overhauling your bad habits, while battling some serious post-party-season blues.
That’s why winter is secretly the best time to get your health mojo back. You’ll keep the indulgences (and the financial burden) of the festive period in check, and in doing so, get into good shape for when New Year rolls around.
Here, three health and wellness experts reveal their top tips for keeping motivated and giving yourself a winter health reboot.
Many of us traditionally celebrate the end of winter with a good old spring clean, but why not start as you mean to to go by doing the same as winter looms?
“Clear out your cupboards and stock up on the foods that will help to promote winter wellness and give you the ingredients to create delicious dishes that will support your body’s health as the temperature drops,” advises nutritionist Rob Hobson.
“Nourishing grains such as barley and spelt, as well as pulses and beans, lend themselves perfectly to healthy winter dishes such as stews, casseroles, soups and warm salads.”
Spices such as cinnamon, smoked paprika, turmeric, raw cacao and chilli powder can also offer warming flavours that help nurture our sense of winter wellbeing, he adds. The key to eating “winter well”, says Rob, is having all the ingredients you need to create healthy, comforting meals that include earthy, rich flavours to satisfy your mood and promote good health.
We’ve all heard that Instagram can be toxic for our mental health, contributing to feelings of anxiety, self-doubt and body-image worries, but there are ways you can use the social network as a force for good when it’s pouring with rain outside.
“Use Instagram as a gratitude diary by taking a photo every day of something you feel grateful for,” says health psychologist Dr Meg Aroll.
“Studies have shown that appreciating and noting down what we are thankful for enhances our overall satisfaction with life and lifts mood, leading us to feel more refreshed in the mornings and increasing the amount of time we spend exercising. If you’re not a fan of social media, you could simply write down three things each morning that you feel grateful for.”
A sunny game of Frisbee in the park might be out of the question, but don’t mourn the loss of summer, because winter brings with it a whole raft of brilliant seasonal sports that can keep you active.
Dr Aroll suggests finding a new hobby that celebrates winter, such as ice skating, snow kiting or indoor skiing.
“You could also consider doing something for the community, like volunteering. Nothing lifts the spirits more than helping others in need, and Christmas can be a significantly lonely time of year for many people.”
When the weather’s gloomy and you’re feeling depressed, it can can really impact on your appetite and food choices, which may leave you lacking in essential nutrients. It’s also a common season for overloading on stodgy and sugary foods, such as takeaways and desserts, for comfort.
“Food is not a cure, but making healthy choices can help and good nutrition is proven to benefit mental health,” says Rob. “Make sure you eat regularly and follow a low GI diet by including protein, healthy fats and plenty of veggies at every meal, to help balance blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full and energised.”
He suggests topping up on B vitamins with wholegrains, oily fish, eggs, and dark green leafy vegetables that help to convert food into energy, and support a healthy nervous system.
A final tip? Take a daily vitamin D3 supplement to keep your spirits high.
“Low vitamin D levels are common during winter months, as we struggle to get what we need from the lack of sunshine, and this can increase your risk of low mood and seasonal depression,” Rob notes. “Try to eat plenty of tryptophan-rich foods, such as oats, bananas, turkey and tofu. The amino-acid tryptophan is converted in the brain to the ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin.”
When it’s raining and freezing cold outside, why on earth would you leave your warm bed or sofa to go for a run? The simplest answer is that running in winter can instantly put you into a cheery mood, thanks to a quick hit of feelgood hormones.
“Snuggling on the sofa might sound appealing, but don’t forget that winter is a great time of year to get outside, wrap up warm and enjoy the fresh air,” says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Dan Robertson.
“In fact, a bracing winter breeze can actually be quite invigorating and prompt your body to release endorphins, which reduce your pain response and will put you in a great mood.”
If all else fails, you can use the thought of a natural shot of euphoria as your motivation to crawl out from under the duvet when it’s blowing a gale outside. Take that, winter.