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Top tips for winter survival

Taking Care of Your Health This Winter

By Ben S. | 4th December 2017

While there are lots of things to look forward to during the winter – festivities, cosy evenings in, delicious seasonal food – the onset of cold weather can take its toll on our health and we may feel like we need a bit of extra support.  We’ve put together our top winter survival tips so you can keep your health in great shape this season. 

Avoid Coughs & Colds

For many of us, winter is “cold season”. Waking up one morning with a sore throat, runny nose and a general feeling of lethargy is no fun for anyone, but there are things that you can do to keep your immune system healthy…

Get Enough Sleep

Rest and recuperation are a critical part of maintaining a healthy immune system, and failing to get enough sleep can leave you exposed to viruses. One scientific study asked 153 volunteers to record both how much sleep they got and how often they got ill for a period of two weeks. The results showed that participants getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night were almost three times as likely to catch a cold as those sleeping 8 hours a night or more. So don’t feel guilty about going to bed early, or sleeping in a little at weekends - you might just be doing your health a power of good. 

Take Vitamin C

Scientists looking at how vitamin C affects the common cold tried giving either a supplement or a placebo to several groups living in cold conditions and found “a considerable reduction in common cold incidence in the group supplemented with vitamin C”. 

As a result, aim to include plenty of sources of vitamin C in your diet, such as citrus fruit, blackcurrants and bell peppers. Alternatively, consider a vitamin C supplement as a quick and easy way to support your immune system. 

Boost Your Zinc Levels

Zinc is possibly not what you think of when it comes to colds, but a number of studies suggest that it might be beneficial. A group of scientists investigating the topic looked at 15 past experiments, involving almost 1,000 different participants, to assess how helpful zinc can be. Their conclusion was that “zinc administered within 24 hours of onset of symptoms reduces the duration and severity of the common cold”. 

Great sources of zinc in your diet include shellfish, poultry and dairy. Of course, you could just keep a zinc supplement on hand if it’s easier for you. 

Increase Your Hygiene Levels

One of the big problems with colds is that they’re so easy to pass on - either through direct contact or by touching an infected surface. Winter is therefore a perfect time to increase your hygiene levels at home to help fight these pathogens. This needn’t be too complicated; studies suggest that regular hand washing alone can reduce the chances of contracting a cold by up to 16%. 

Keep Your Bones Healthy

Winter poses two risks for our bones. Firstly, the icy, frosty weather can increase the chances of slips and falls, and weaker bones may not respond as well to such trauma. Secondly, and just as importantly, we tend not to get enough vitamin D during the winter months, which can result in deficiencies. Vitamin D plays a central role, together with calcium, in keeping our bones strong and healthy, so this is the perfect time to make sure you’re taking care of your skeleton.  

Public Health England states that during the autumn and winter there just isn’t enough sunshine to meet the recommended intake. As a result “everyone will need to rely on dietary sources of vitamin D”. Furthermore, they highlight the fact that it is “difficult” to meet these levels through food alone, and that all of us should take a vitamin D supplement as a result. 

Reduce Painful Joints

For those of us that suffer from joint pain, winter has a habit of worsening symptoms. Before the temperature drops too much therefore, consider some simple lifestyle changes that may help to ease any discomfort. 

Exercise Regularly

Numerous studies have demonstrated the beneficial impacts of exercise on joint problems. From resistance training to walking, from yoga to aqua aerobics, keeping active is linked to reductions in inflammation and joint pain. So don’t hide away indoors; throw on a hat and scarf and take some regular exercise this winter. 

Supplement with Glucosamine

Glucosamine is a natural substance found in our joints, but over time our levels can start to fall. A study from King’s College in London investigated the impact of glucosamine supplementation on joint pain. 218 patients were either given ibuprofen or glucosamine to assess their impacts, with the results demonstrating that “glucosamine is effective in relieving joint pain associated with osteoarthritis”. The experts concluded that based on their findings glucosamine “can be used as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs”. 

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to consume enough glucosamine through your diet, as the highest levels are generally found in the shells of crustaceans. As a result, most people rely on a high quality glucosamine supplement

Omega 3 Oils

Another popular joint supplement is cod liver oil. This popular supplement is rich in two different fatty acids which are thought to reduce inflammation of the joints and, as a result, discomfort. An extensive study from Canada aimed to assess the scientific research carried out so far pertaining to joint pain. Their analysis concluded that taking omega 3 fatty acids for a period of time reduced patient-reported pain, morning stiffness and the number of painful joints. 

Health experts now recommend that we should consume two portions of fish each week, with at least one of those being oily fish like salmon or mackerel. For ease, however, many people opt for an omega 3 supplement to maintain their health.   

Fight Dry Skin

Our skin has to put up with a lot over winter – the combination of the cold weather outdoors followed by the heating constantly being on indoors can leave your skin feeling tight, dry and irritated. Be kind to your skin and apply a gentle moisturiser often, particularly to the parts of your body which are exposed to the elements most, such as your face and hands. A skin cream containing aloe vera can be extra soothing and protecting during the harsh winter months.

Don’t forget to hydrate from the inside too – carry on drinking plenty of water, or add some variation with fruit or herbal teas if you fancy something warming. Include small amounts of healthy unsaturated fats, such as a drizzle of olive oil over a salad, some slices of avocado or a handful of nuts – all great additions to your leftovers too! As well as being important for healthy skin, fat also helps with the absorption of vitamins A and E, which are essential for protecting and repairing skin.

Limit Digestive Upsets

As winter rolls around our diet often changes. Many of us switch from lighter foods like salads to much heartier fare. This is taken to extremes at Christmas time, where studies suggest we may consume up to 6,000 calories on the big day; equivalent to 12 McDonald’s Big Macs. That’s a lot for your digestive system to deal with, and can result in feelings of lethargy, bloating or stomach pain. 

There’s more. Scientists consider our digestive system to be the single biggest surface that comes into contact with pathogens. A recent study calculated the surface area of the human digestive system at 32 square metres - roughly equivalent to half a badminton court. As a result, it’s crucial to keep your digestive system in the best possible health if you want to stay fit this winter. Here are a few tips to help you do just that…

Use Probiotics

Your digestive tract is home to a host of “friendly bacteria” which help to digest your food. When these bacterial colonies get out of balance, however, problems can ensue. Studies also suggest that these bacteria may help to ward off infection, with one scientific study claiming that “probiotics may reduce the risk of getting sick”. Natural yogurt is a great example of a probiotic, as is our ever-popular Super ProBio supplement.  

Ration Your Food Intake

Eating huge volumes of food can be tough on your digestive system, no matter how appealing it may seem at the time. Try to moderate your food intake, consuming smaller meals and fewer calories. You’re also likely to feel less sluggish afterward, allowing you to enjoy the festive season all the more rather than falling asleep on the sofa. 

Consume Enough Fibre

Fibre not only helps to ease food gently along your digestive tract but can also help to keep us feeling full for longer - reducing the number of calories we consume over Christmas. All fibre comes from plant material, so make sure you’re consuming a healthy balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables this winter. If you want a top-up then supplements like psyllium husk may help. 

Support Healthy Circulation

Our circulation can become poorer during the winter, leading to cold hands and feet. In addition to this, we naturally tend to reduce our activity levels in response to the cold. To help maintain healthy circulation it’s important to keep moving throughout the day – aim to get up at least every hour if you’re sat down a lot, and don’t skip the exercise session. If your usual outdoor jog or bike ride isn’t quite as enjoyable on cold days, swap for an indoor activity. This is a great chance to vary the types of activity you do and try something new. 

As well as exercising, to support your circulation it’s recommended to stop smoking, wrap up warm, including wearing gloves and good quality footwear, minimise stress levels, and follow a healthy diet. 

Conclusion

While there’s no magic pill to good health, there are all sorts of ways to keep yourself in the best possible health this winter. It all starts with regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet. Alongside this, however, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and consider how some of the supplements on offer can help make this festive season your best yet. 

Supplements To Consider:


Sources:

http://journals.lww.com/jcge/Abstract/2008/07001/Use_of_Probiotics_and_Yogurts_in_Maintenance_of.6.aspx 
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/christmas-dinner-you-think-youll-consume-2000-calories-but-in-reality-its-closer-to-6000-9937146.html 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24694282 
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/phe-publishes-new-advice-on-vitamin-d 
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub3/full
https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-2007-972864
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/414701?=rssa
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3156.2006.01568.x/full
http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/abs/10.12968/bjcn.2002.7.3.10214 
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304395907000413

Article by Ben S.

Ben Staff is a university trained journalist who specialises in writing and creating online content, with a specific interest in researching media coverage of health and nutritional topics. An outdoorsman at heart that enjoys hiking and mountaineering, he dreams of one day following in his heroes’ footsteps by climbing Mount Everest.

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