Winter is here
Winter is here. And when it comes to our health and wellness, as temperatures plummet the odds are stacked against us.
Shorter days can mean low mood, and the cold and dark make it hard to feel motivated to exercise and eat. But winter is actually the time should take care of our wellbeing the most. There are more viruses circulating, not just Covid-19 but the likes of colds and flu.
And after mixing was limited last year, doctors like myself believe we entering uncharted territory when comes to how our bodies will react to invaders.
Our immune system needs regular boosts and constant exposure to other people and bugs to function effectively.
We have no idea how avoiding each other last winter will impact its ability to operate. This unique situation emphasises the importance of being proactive when it comes to looking after our wellbeing. There’s never been a more vital time to take charge.
Luckily, there are some simple things you can do that will make a difference. And I’m here to show you how it’s done.
In part one of my exclusive Winter Wellness plan I’ll discuss how diet and relaxation are key to boosting health and wellness, and in tomorrow’s part two we’ll move on to exercise and sleep.
So if you’re looking to make a change, read on.
- Before you start this or any health or fitness regime, consult your GP.
THE FOUR PILLARS: EAT, RELAX, MOVE, SLEEP
Taking charge of our health shouldn’t be hard, but many of us are paralysed by the endless amount of advice on offer.
So allow me to simplify what a healthy lifestyle means. The truth is, everyone has the power to achieve peak wellness, allowing them to feel better and live life to the full.
And wellness can be broken down into four pillars – eat, sleep, relax and move.
Strengthen all four pillars and your health will hold strong.
The pillars work in harmony with one another, and you are only as good as your weakest pillar.
If you want to improve how you feel, start by asking which of the pillars you need the most help with and tackle that one first.
But don’t focus on just one. It’s no good hammering the gym if you are staying up until 2am every night.
Start small – this doesn’t have to be a huge overhaul. A little, when done well, soon adds up to a lot.
The 12-hour window
They say you are what you eat and this is the best place to start if you want to feel well this winter. Diets are divisive but this isn’t about faddy trends. tead of looking at what you eat, by thinking about when, how and you are eating.
There’s a 12-hour window each day during which you should take your meals, known as time-restricted eating, the last food eaten no later 8pm.
Certain people with medical conditions or an eating disorder should not follow this regime, but the rest will find it helps blood sugar control, immune system function, sleep quality and weight.
Seventy percent of your immune system lives in your gut so the food you eat directly impacts the quality of your immune response.
The consistency between all good diets is a focus on minimally processed foods or whole foods.
These are the things that our grandparents might have been eating, rather than modern ready meals. Think grains (brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats), beans and legumes (lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas), nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. Use these whole foods to make hearty soups, casseroles and curries this winter.
Start looking at the labels on food. If there are more than five things listed, this is normally a sure sign they are ultra-processed and best avoided.
As you move towards eating more whole foods and cooking from fresh, your desire to snack should reduce as your blood sugar will be more stable.
And often we are not eating to fill a hole in our stomachs but a hole in our hearts.
We eat because we are feeling lonely, bored or low.
And with more time spent indoors during the winter, consumption tends to increase.
So when you are reaching for that snack, you should stop and follow my Three F exercise.
Ask yourself: What do I FEEL? How can I FEED it? Then FIND a way to nourish it.
This could be some quiet time reading with no distractions, a phone call with a loved one or an early night.
Stress less for success Stress is endemic in our modern lives and, while a little is natural, prolonged exposure is harmful for your body and mind.
Finding time to relax will cut your levels of stress hormone cortisol, but it needs to be the right type.
Curling up on a cosy winter’s night in front of the television might seem like an easy way to unwind but this is actually passive relaxation.
It doesn’t nourish you as much as active relaxation, such as a walk, some yoga or an Epsom salt bath.
You should strive to ringfence 15 minutes a day, where you put the phone away and do something that you really love.
This will help you be more resilient to stress and less likely to burn out.
Reconnecting with your partner
Reconnect with your partner
Once you’ve made quality time for yourself, you can give a little to your partner too.
Make the most of dark nights and cook a comforting dinner together.
Clear communication is the secret to keeping a relationship fulfilling rather than fraught.
Don’t expect your partner to read your mind, and try not to react when you feel triggered.
Instead, use what I call the Five Minute Tea Ritual to come together in a quiet moment each day, with phones and laptops out of sight, to reconnect and talk.
Try to “stay on your side of the net” and talk about your own feelings rather than lobbing accusations.
When my wife and I do this, there’s more intimacy and closeness. We find five minutes often turns to 20.
Cut the tech
I’m a big fan of a digital detox, to allow you to relax and sleep better, as well as engage with the world around you. But with more time spent indoors during winter, the temptation to use our phones is at its greatest.
So could you spend the first hour of the day and the last one with your phone off? Perhaps you could take your daily walk without it?
I know that many of us have relied on our phones to keep in touch with loved ones during the restrictions over the past 18 months.
This connection is important for our wellbeing. But you don’t truly get it with social media.
Opt for an old-fashioned phone call instead. It’s more intimate and you can fully focus on the conversation.
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If the dark days and cold weather mean your mood is low, clear your head with meditation.
Five minutes a day is all you need. The best place to start is with a guided meditation or mindfulness app like Headspace or Calm.
Remember that the goal isn’t to have no thoughts and a quiet mind but to make friends with your mind.
So don’t beat yourself up if your brain starts running through your to-do list.
You are allowing that stuff to come out from deep inside so it won’t negatively affect your day.
Of course, no matter how much you cut out stress, there will be times when you start to feel overwhelmed.
In those situations, then you should try the 3-4-5 breath technique. It only takes a minute.
Breathe in for three, hold for four and breathe out for five. Do this five times and you will feel better.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s five-minute wellness podcast, Built To Thrive, is exclusively available on Amazon Music music.amazon.co.uk/podcasts
- The 4 Pillar Plan by Dr Rangan Chatterjee (£16.99, Penguin Life) is out now
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