4 Natural And Easy Ways To Have Your Healthiest Winter Yet
By Janet Williams, Legends Report Writer
'Your health is what you make of it. Everything you do and think adds to the vitality, energy and spirit you possess – or takes away from it' - Unknown
Winter can be tough on our bodies as the change in season brings a number of obstacles to our health. For some reason, we generally tend to be more relaxed about taking care of our health in winter when in fact it should be the opposite, as the cold weather can make health problems worse and even lead to serious complications. The risks of disease are higher at this time of year and while groups such as the over 65’s, under 5’s, pregnant women, or those with long term health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the cold weather, it can affect us all to varying degrees.
So, as we now head towards the darker evenings and colder weather in the UK at least 😉 it is important that we find time for ourselves, to nurture our inner wellness and focus on ways to stay healthy instead of struggling with those runny noses and high temperatures.
Throughout my long career as a nurse, I often wondered why or how some people coped with illness well, while others fell at the slightest issue. Some people just seemed to have much healthier and stronger immune systems and over the years I came to realise that these people all seemed to have two things in common - their attitude and their habits.
I also learnt that being healthy was not just a ‘medical’ issue. It is also about our us – how we feel and think about ourselves, the daily habits we build, our mood and understanding our own bodies so we can find what makes us feel good.
But how do we do that? What do these ‘healthier’ people do that others don’t? Below are four areas of our life where little changes can make a big difference to our immune system.
But please remember, these are not meant to replace any treatment you may currently be receiving but simply to complement and support them and please always get advice from your GP if you feel unwell.
Look After Your Digestive System
'One should eat to live, not live to eat.'
- Moliere (French Playwright)
Ayurveda – one of the oldest natural systems of medicine that originated in India more than 3000 years ago - has long held that the digestive system is the source of a healthy body and mind. And modern science is now catching up and confirming this, with an ever-increasing body of evidence that there is a strong link between our gut and our brain. In fact, our gut is now often called our second brain.
Most people know of the body’s Central Nervous System (CNS) which is basically the brain and the spinal cord along with a network of nerve cells and transmitters that extend to all the major organs. But it is now known that there is another part of our body's nervous system located in the gut, known as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and with a network of the same type of nerves, neurons and transmitters that extend along the entire digestive tract – hence the second brain name.
The ENS is in constant communication with the brain via its own superhighway – the vagus nerve - and plays a key role in certain diseases in our bodies and even in our overall medical health. It is now becoming clear that all these signals flowing backwards and forwards can influence our decisions, mood and general wellbeing and links are emerging between the ENS and a host of disorders ranging from obesity and clinical depression to rheumatoid arthritis and even Parkinson’s. The ENS and the brain-gut connection is set to become a major focus of 21st-century medicine.
So, to stay healthy we need to keep our gut healthy - a sluggish or malnourished gut leads to a compromised immune system and anything we can do to improve this will, in turn, improve our health. But what can we do?
The obvious thing is to eat as healthy a diet as possible. In our busy lives, we consume many pre-packaged and processed foods and drinks which unfortunately are highly inflammatory and this inflammation can weaken and suppress our immune system leaving us more susceptible to those winter illnesses. Cutting down on these processed foods, increasing the amount of fresh seasonal foods and reducing our intake of sugar and fat even just a little bit can go a long way to boost our gut.
Taking additional supplements is also a good idea in winter - while foods are packed with infection-fighting nutrients, modern-day storage and transportation methods can deplete these nutrients so complementing your diet offers extra protection. Feeling under par can mean that there are some gaps in your nutrition which is where supplementing helps.
Some good extras to take are:
- A Probiotic – although these infection-fighting bacteria are naturally present in our bodies our modern-day lifestyles and diet can often kill them off. Taking extra probiotics can promote good digestive health and be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal diseases – it's also thought they may help fight mental illness.
- Vitamin C – this reduces the risk of diseases and common cold and flu symptoms as well as issues associated with the digestive system. If you feel a cold coming on then upping your dose of vitamin C could be the key to lessening the severity. Many years ago a colleague swore by taking vitamin C capsules the minute she had a sneeze or runny nose and she did seem to spend the winters cold-free!
- Vitamin D – known as the sunshine vitamin this is essential for natural immunity and we all struggle to get enough during the winter months – 10 million people in the UK have vitamin D deficiency without even knowing it.
Protect Your Mental & Emotional Health
'A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book'
Protecting our mental and emotional health is important to our overall health and wellbeing as it affects how we think, feel, and act as well as how we handle stress, relate to others and make healthy choices. Now, as the nights get longer and the days get shorter, we see less sunshine which can lead to many of us suffering from seasonal depression. Depression has been shown to affect our mood and our physical health as well as our immunity and can increase the risk for many types of physical problems, especially long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk of mental health.
Having poor mental health does not mean that someone has a mental illness – the two things are very different. Someone can be in poor mental health but not be diagnosed with a mental illness and vice versa.
But mental health problems are a growing public health concern both in the UK and worldwide and are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide. Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischaemic heart disease.
The good news is that protecting your mental health doesn't have to be difficult or complicated. A few things you can do are:
- Have a Giggle - Laughter stimulates the areas of the brain that are involved in depression and mediating stress, suggesting that it can counteract depression symptoms and it is now used as a targeted tool for depression. So go ahead and watch that funny movie, laugh with friends or why not try Laughter Yoga.
- Value Yourself - We are often harder on ourselves than we would be with others but it is important that we treat ourselves with kindness - would you speak to a good friend the way you speak to yourself? Try to make time every day to do something just for you - even if it's just sitting quietly with a cup of tea! Learn to say no to what you don't want and yes to what you do.
- Take Care of Your Body - Raise your heart rate – studies show that people who are active over a long period of time are less likely to suffer from depression..
- Practice Gratitude – Research shows the practice of gratitude has the benefits of increased resilience to do hard things and increased generosity.
And perhaps most important of all - get help if you feel you need it. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. Ensuring you get appropriate help can ensure a quicker recovery.
Manage Your Stress Levels
'It's not stress that kills us, it's our reaction to it.'
Hans Selye (endocrinologist)
Stress has been shown to have a huge effect on all areas of our body including lowering the immune system. Have you ever noticed after a particularly stressful event (good or bad) you often wake with a cold or flu symptoms? This is because your immune system is intrinsically linked to your stress levels.
Many of us are living with ongoing stress without even realising it, and one study found that 33% of adults reported experiencing high levels of perceived stress. While in another study, 235 adults were categorised into either a high or low-stress group. Over a six month period, those in the high-stress group experienced 70% more respiratory infections and nearly 61% more days of symptoms than the low-stress group.
But what is stress exactly?
Stress is described as any situation that triggers a potential biological response – when you perceive a threat or a major challenge chemicals and hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, surge through your body. That gets your heart beating faster and sends blood to muscles and important organs. You feel energised and have heightened awareness so you can focus on your immediate needs. This is the fight or flight response – do you stay and fight the stressor or do you turn and run away?
However, stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive and today it can help us to avoid an accident, meet a deadline or stay calm in chaos and there are also good forms of stress – your wedding day for example. But any form of stress should be temporary and once the fight or flight moment has passed your heart rate and breathing should gradually return to normal and your muscles should relax without leaving any long-lasting negative effects.
The general signs of stress can include but are not limited to: acne, headaches, chronic pain, frequent illness, decreased energy and insomnia, depression, rapid heartbeat and sweating.
However, when the stress is constant and chronic over a prolonged period of time it can cause overexposure to cortisol, epinephrine and other stress hormones which can then disrupt almost all of our body’s processes. Because we all react differently to stress, those health problems will vary from person to person but they can be something such as damage to blood vessels which in turn leads to high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.
Even if you don't really feel you are stressed, building stress relieving habits into your daily routine will only bring benefits.
Things you can do include;
- Meditate - One in three Brits prioritises mindfulness with 49% of people using it to handle a hectic lifestyle. Focused breathing methods are also proven to reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels.
- Move Daily – Exercise blasts stress, improves circulation and mobilises antibodies and white blood cells, which detect and attack viruses. Studies have shown that people who exercise at least five days a week cut their chances of getting a cold by half.
- Yoga – Not only is yoga relaxing, but the twisting moves also stimulate the lymphatic system which helps to strengthen the immune system.
- Breathe - While breathing is natural and we couldn't survive without it, many of us do not breathe properly, taking only quick shallow breaths instead of slow deep ones. Conscious deep breathing can enhance immunity, manage stress levels and improve both heart and respiratory health. You can learn more about proper breathing techniques here.
Ward off The Viruses
'Prevention is better than cure'
Winter is the season of the virus! The obvious one over recent months has been COVID, which is still an ongoing threat to us, but as well as this there is also the usual ‘flu virus plus over 200 different cold viruses doing the rounds and although we can’t see them, germs can spread quickly and easily from person to person and by touching surfaces.
In view of recent events, we could be forgiven for thinking that the world would be a much better place if viruses did not exist at all, but this is not the case and without viruses life and the planet as we knew it would cease to exist. The vast majority of viruses are not harmful to humans, and many play integral roles in propping up ecosystems.
But like many things in life we hear much about the bad ones and little about the good. It is important that while we protect against the bad we don’t go overboard and completely deplete our body of the good viruses. It is important to try to find a balance.
For natural ways to boost your immune system to fight Covid-19 click here...
Things that you can do to protect yourself include:
- Have Good Hygiene – cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and bin used tissues. Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds making sure your soap backs, thumbs, webs of fingers and under nails and don’t touch your face with dirty hands.
- Think about getting the flu jab - especially if you are in an at-risk group.
- Use a Nasal Spray – Viruses and bacteria cling inside our nasal passages but a nasal spray offers protection.
- Get fresh air - stuffy overheated rooms can be breeding grounds for bugs, so get outside in the fresh air regularly and open windows when indoors.
So there you are - four different areas where you can build good habits and boost your immune system. Some things, such as exercise, have many benefits. Start today, building one or two things into your daily routine and build on them, and before you know it, you will have a much stronger immune system. And in these days of COVID and strains on the NHS that can only be a good thing. Many of us struggle to apply these habits into our daily lives so we are here at the Legends Report to support you. If you'd like to be part of mastermind support groups where we support each other to live healthier lives just send us an email through the form below.
And I will leave you with one final quote:
'The greatest wealth is health'
How To Apply This
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Great work Janet! Covered so much in this article it made me look into what I really need to be doing more of or trying out to be more healthy even outside the winter season. Tons of useful information and surprising ones too at points.