The UK winter. The daylight is limited, the temperature is low, the amount of moisture and dampness in the air is high. All in all, it can be very harsh. Harsh on our bodies, harsh on the minds and harsh on our immunity… and all of this is true without a global pandemic occurring. So, during this time it is important to support our bodies in a way that allows us to stay in optimal health—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But, what key factors and insights should be taken into consideration when we are trying to avoid having a snotty nose for the 6 months and purely live off pies and carbs?
Exercising correctly and on a regular basis is a huge support for our immune system. How and why?
Well, for a multitude of reasons really. Mainly, moving our body helps the drainage system, known as the lymphatic system, flush out toxins, bacteria, viruses and unwanted cells as well as pump fresh fluids–bloods, water and all types of nutrients—around the body. The contraction of muscles and increase in heart rate created during exercise, increases our internal pressure especially in connection to the lymph fluid which helps pump, drain and move toxins and goodness throughout your body. If you have ever had the pleasure of having a lymphatic drainage massage you will have noticed the excessive amount you wee after as well as the reduction in water retention in your body. This similar effect is created through exercise but generally on a gentler, more subtle and sustained way.
Importantly, exercise also reduces stress. Stress is an immunosuppressant, meaning when we are chronically stressed we are more prone to infection, colds, disease and all types of problems. Using exercise in a productive way e.g. combining yoga, pilates, HIIT, steady state cardio and strength training, will help regulate the nervous and endocrine systems and bring us out of the flight, fight or freeze response. This enables us to fight off any germs or foreign entities which enter our bodies, whilst also helping the prevention of more chronic diseases e.g. heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which certainly want to be avoided due to the long term health implications.
So, fixing your training program to suit the time of year is vital. With the limited day light it is especially important to boost your feel-good hormones that are generated during exercise and doing this in the outdoors when possible to really get the boosted vitamin D levels and fresh air in the lungs is a must. Whether this be walking, running, cycling or riding, getting outdoors and immersing yourselves in the elements is key to keeping yourself at maximum vitality as well as moving in a way that boosts your immune system! Combining weight training, yoga, pilates, stretch-based movements to keep the body strong and flexible is also crucial when the temperature is low and we are spending most of our time tense and wrapped up.
Even if we eat a colourful, fresh, balanced diet that is full of goodness and zero ‘badness’, I would still recommend incorporating these handy herbs and supplements into your routine to give you that extra boost.
Vitamins C and D
Used in almost every metabolic process within the body plus also being crucial to build and balance hormones as well as even being used as hormones themselves, these vital vitamins are critical to supporting your immune system, enhancing your bodies ability to detect and fight off infection and clear out old cells.
A flowering plant which helps support the T-Cells (the fighter cells of the body) and increases the production of white blood cells to help boost your body’s natural immunity and defence barrier. Adding a few drops to the last gulps of your green juice or tea in the morning will keep you boosted all day long.
Zinc and magnesium
These help reduce inflammation, improve the quality of your sleep, maintain bone strength, the functioning of enzymes and the body’s repair system as well as helping keep your body in a more balanced state and therefore more able to fight off germs and support the immune cells. Zinc and magnesium are great minerals to take to help keep you healthy and well during the winter months, upping your dosage will help you become fighting-fit.
Lemon, ginger and Manuka honey
This magic combo is a perfect winter-warmer. Lemon acting as a detoxifier, ginger acting as a metabolic booster and the Manuka honey with its antibacterial, antiviral properties will keep your body in optimal state whilst also assisting the liver and digestive system and giving you the sweetness we crave at this time of the year.
St John’s-wort or Passiflora
The mood boosting plants. Both are fabulous herbs for combatting the winter blues and helping alleviate nervousness, tiredness, poor appetite and sleep troubles, whilst supporting the organs in the body and therefore increasing the body’s ability to fight off illness.
Using this time to rest, reflect and connect to what this year is all about. Letting go, surrendering, hibernating and coming to stillness to restore so that you can enter spring with full power and revived energy.
Maybe combining your meditation practice with some Yin or restorative yoga to help open up the fascial network and finding the stillness within. It is so important from a wellbeing perspective to use this time as a way to find the peace and opportunities to simply be, finding the breath and the calmness and beauty that the winter months can bring—the bareness and emptiness that Mother Nature creates and the expansion that that brings. Using meditation as a way to bring healthy mantra or affirmations into play to renew or boost your immunity, whilst reflecting and asking your internal compass what else is needed in your life to help you become healthier, happier, and more balanced.
Winter is a challenge for a multitude of reasons, but using some of these simple methods - mixing balanced exercise with extra supplements and then the right amount of connection to the breath and rest, will help you boost your immunity and fight off the challenge with ease and grace.