Six expert tips from a nutritionist to help you have a healthy and happy winter

Anyone else feel that this winter is LONG already? November seemed never-ending, and the usual spark around the festive period just isn’t there this year.

With everything going on around COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re healthy and happy this winter. But with restricted access to many things that keep us feeling good, this can feel trickier than ever.

So, to help ensure you have a healthy (and happy) winter, we asked Registered Associate Nutritionist Kimberley Neve from Neve Nutrition and Wellbeing for her six best tips. Here they are.

1) Find a good sleep routine

Dark mornings make it difficult to get out of bed, so focusing on healthy sleep hygiene is particularly important at this time of year. Make sure you get up and go to bed at about the same time every day (including weekends if you can) to regulate your body clock and (hopefully) start to wake up at the right time more naturally.

Avoid watching TV right up to bedtime. Switch off the screens for 30-45 minutes before you want to sleep and try winding down by reading, stretching or preparing for the next day.

If you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, consider investing in a light box and have it on for the first 30 minutes of the day. The light produced simulates sunlight and it is thought that exposure to it can increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood) and decrease the amount of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy). 

2) Focus on balance in your diet

A healthy winter has to include a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole-grains. Whilst it’s tempting to settle into the snacks in the evening, too much extra sugar will make you feel groggy and unproductive, and potential weight gain could negatively affect your mental health.

Plan meals in advance to include fruit and veg, not only for the vitamins and minerals, but also for the fibre. For the same reason, don’t cut the carbs – grains are a really important source of fibre, which paves the way for a healthy gut.

As over 70% of the immune cells that you have in your body are associated with your gut, gut health = immune health. This is, of course, particularly important with COVID-19 in mind.

3) Up your zinc and vitamin D

Speaking of immune health, you’ll probably have heard about taking vitamin C if you have a cold, but it’s a bit of a myth that it actually helps – research doesn’t show that taking vitamin C reduces the average person’s risk of getting a cold or the length of it.

Zinc, however, has been shown to be useful in preventing the severity and length of the common cold. If you have a cold, this is why lozenges or syrup might help. Otherwise, maintain healthy zinc levels with a balanced diet – red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains all contain zinc, as well as fortified cereals (ones that say they’ve added it in).

Vitamin D is also key for the winter months. As we get most of our vitamin D from the sun, it’s recommended for all adults in the UK to take a supplement of 10mcg (or 400 IU) from October to March.

This is true even if you manage to get outside, as we just don’t absorb it from the winter sun. Not many foods contain vitamin D; the ones that do are oily fish (mackerel, herring, salmon), egg yolks and beef liver. Some milks and cereals have been fortified with it too, but you need to check the labels.

4) Move your body

We all know that exercise benefits our body and minds, but finding the time or motivation can be difficult. The best thing if you’re struggling to get moving is to remove any pressure – just aim for ten minutes, or a simple stretch.

More often than not, you’ll warm up and feel in the mood as the exercise starts to promote the release of endorphins (a hormone that triggers a positive feeling) and you’ll go for longer or turn the stretch into some yoga or Pilates. Even if you don’t, remember that ten minutes is better than nothing, and your body will still have benefitted.

You can also experiment with moving at different times of day: some people workout better in the morning to make sure they do it; others prefer to stretch then and do more vigorous activity later when their muscles are warmer. Either way, get out at lunchtime for a quick walk to maximise your exposure to sunlight and give your eyes a rest from the screen.

5) Prioritise your mental health

Health isn’t just physical. Your mental health affects how you feel every day, how you respond to stressful events and how happy you are overall, so it’s important to make it a priority.

Prioritising yourself isn’t selfish. Mums are especially guilty for thinking that there’s no time for me-time, or that doing something for themselves somehow makes them a ‘bad’ mum. The thing is, you can’t keep pouring from an empty cup – if you’re tired, stressed and overwhelmed, then your kids will feel it too.  

Find a space in your week and plan some me-time to relax and restore your energy. Something small to look forward to, like a hot bubble bath or wrapping up under the duvet with a book. Schedule it in as a must, not an option!

6) Focus forward

These aren’t normal times, and it can be difficult to be positive when everything still feels so uncertain. Whilst focusing on big social events might not be the best idea at the moment, planning other nice things for the near future can really help you feel happier now.

Think of activities that make you happy, and find a way to adapt them to the current circumstances. Love walking, but bored of your local park and don’t have a car? Decide somewhere else to try and treat yourself to a taxi or Uber there – it’s money you would normally be spending on lunches out or kids’ parties. 

Love travelling, but can’t go anywhere? Book some annual leave for next year when you think it might be safe to travel and think of the places you might like to go. You don’t have to book anything until nearer the time, but it’s something to get excited about and a reminder that things will get better. 

Love food, but not able to eat out? Try new recipes and actually get that random spice you normally skip, or organise a friendly bake-off competition over Zoom. 

Most importantly, listen to yourself. If you catch yourself saying the word ‘should’, for instance, “I should have done a workout earlier”, or “I should be working on my marketing strategy tonight”, just stop.

It’s normal to need rest sometimes, and you’ll feel better for listening to your body and taking time out when you need. You’ll also have more energy to be super-productive the next day. So above all, be nice to yourself this winter.

Kimberley Neve is a Registered Associate Nutritionist who offers personalised nutrition consultations to help clients stop dieting, optimise their nutrition and feel happier.

Kimberley specialises in weight management without calorie-counting or restriction to help her clients have a healthier relationship with food and achieve their goals.

Photo by Victória Kubiaki