In cold weather, our instinct is to burrow under the covers. Here’s what to do when the urge to hibernate kicks in.
The nights are long and the days are chilly. Like brown bears, we’re starting to think about finding a cosy nook to curl up in and stay in all winter.
Unlike some mammals, however, most of us aren’t able to bunker down for the next six months. Life goes on no matter how cold and miserable it gets. But there are plenty of ways you can adapt your exercise habits and meals to make winter slightly easier to deal with.
We’ve gathered five simple tips together for boosting energy, supporting immunity and protecting our mental wellbeing – getting us ready to hit the ground running when spring returns.
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Pick – and stick – to a bedtime
Nina Gambling is a personal trainer and co-founder of LRG Fitness. Gambling stresses the importance of sleeping well for good mental and physical health, and says that if you are struggling with energy right now, it’s important to pick a non-negotiable bed and wake-up time.
“Obviously you’re going to have nights out – it’s Christmas – but try to prioritise having a set-ish bedtime. Then get off your phone an hour before bed, leave devices outside the bedroom and keep the room cool (not cold, but not warm either).”
And her advice is in step with the NHS, which recommends keeping regular sleep hours and sleeping somewhere dark, quiet and cool if you can.
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Stick to your fitness regime
Gambling also warns that without enough activity during the day, you may struggle to nod off. She recommends clients hang onto their exercise routine as Daylight Saving Time kicks in.
Choose the days you exercise (and make them non-negotiable)
“It takes a long time to really secure a habit, so make sure it works for you and fits into your lifestyle,” Gambling says. “In winter, everyone lacks a bit of motivation, has a bit of a lower mood andfinds it harder to get yourself moving to exercise. But if you’re used to, say, doing exercise on a Tuesday and Thursday and Sunday, if you can stick to that, then you’re more inclined to to carry on what you’re doing. And if you don’t exercise, then the risk of your mood going down increases.”
Switch exercises, not days
If you have to change your routine because you don’t like jogging at night, for example, you can always adapt by doing home workouts or if you can find one that’s pay-as-you-go or has affordable day passes, switch to going to the gym for a month or two.
“It’s catastrophic for your health if you just sit down for six months,” says Gambling.
Exercise is good for maintaining good sleep and treating disturbed sleep, particularly for people looking to avoid using sleeping tablets. A 2014 review concluded that “intervening on physical activity levels has been shown to improve sleep”.
De-stress physically – through stretching or working out
If you’re spending more time working from home, it’s crucial that you’re not just going from bed to desk and back to bed.
Gambling explains: “It’s really important to stretch. A lot of people work from home all day at a computer and their desk setup isn’t normally the best. So stretch out your upper body, neck, shoulders and lower back.”
Some people might find slow, restorative yoga or a guided meditation relaxing, but for others it’s better to have an activity where your mind doesn’t wander and you feel completely absorbed – like HIIT or a boxing class: “Do something that gets all your angst out, makes you feel great about yourself, and then you’ll feel you can relax.”
How to eat for winter
In winter it’s almost traditional to turn to carb-loaded dinners like pasta, but Gambling says sticking with protein-rich meals will keep you fuller for longer.
“Keep those vegetable levels high, maybe have more grains – more brown pasta, brown rice – and have a good level of protein with every dinner,” she recommends.
Bulk cook a few times a week
As the cost of food rises, Gambling’s become a big fan of meal-planning.
“It’s boring, but it saves you money and makes you more focused on the nutrition of what you’re eating,” Gambling says. “We plan meals so you don’t have wastage or have to go shopping when we’re hungry. I try to cook two nights’ worth of meals on Mondays and Wednesdays, then we plan a nice Friday night dinner, which avoids us getting a takeaway.”
Stay hydrated with hot drinks
Don’t forget to stock up on coffee (great for gut health) and herbal or green teas. If you don’t love chugging cold tap water when it’s already chilly, plumping for hot drinks is a great way to maintain hydration levels.
Supplement vitamin D
And if you’re not already taking a vitamin D supplement, the NHS recommends everyone consider taking 10 micrograms a day between October and April.
Don’t give into boredom at home
Lastly, when you’re cosied up at home, make sure you have plenty of good activities planned in the evenings – making DIY gifts, knitting, doing a jigsaw or writing Christmas cards. Scrolling through your phone does not count.
Gambling notes that getting bored at home is the perfect environment for distracting with doomscrolling or snacking mindlessly.
“You end up being indoors more, watching more TV, on your computer or on your device a bit more: that often results in snacking more due to boredom,” she explains. Obviously, we’re all entitled to enjoy snacks as and when we like, but if you’re looking to maintain stable energy and sleep better, it’s worth trying to stick to regular meals rather than continually spike blood sugar by grazing.
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