Chilly days, the lure of the sofa and tucking into comfort food… winter can feel like a perfect time to hunker down and enjoy home comforts but, unfortunately, it’s not always great for our waistlines or our physical wellbeing.
Keeping fit and healthy during the darker months after the challenge of two nationwide lockdowns might not be top of our to-do lists right now.
But if we just eat well, get outside, keep our bodies strong and our weight under control, it can make a huge difference to how our body copes if we fall ill during these testing times.
Jane Dowling ( fitnessforeverybody.co.uk ) is a clinical exercise specialist and has over 25 years’ experience helping people to stay fit and well, including those suffering from heart disease and osteoporosis.
“It’s good to remember physical activity helps with mental health – and it doesn’t have to be a formal workout. Play musical statues with the kids; have an online dance-off; play music and dance as you do the housework – it all counts.”
Here's Jane's guide to an easy 20 minute daily workout that can make all the difference to your health:
1. Set an alarm on your phone each hour and walk around the house for ten minutes.
2. If you’re working from home, “walk to work“ by take a 20-minute stroll in the fresh air before sitting down at your desk.
3. If you don’t feel up to exercising one day, remember that tomorrow is another day – small steps are better than no steps.
4. Press-ups and tricep dips are great for wrist strength – they can be performed against a wall, on the edge of a sofa or coffee table, or even a park bench as well as the floor.
This easy four-point plan isn't your only route to better health this winter.
There are plenty of other simple things you can do to ensure you stay well as the cold sets in…
Get in the exercise habit
Having trouble tearing your teenager away from their various screens?
Tim Rogers, CEO of fitness challenge organiser Realbuzz, says: “Many kids have had their team sports halted and are losing the exercise habit. As the dad of a 12 and a 13-year-old, I know how hard it can be to keep them fit, especially now the nights are darker and colder – the motivation isn’t always there.
“Our family go out for a long walk every Saturday and Sunday (whether the children want to or not!). We also go for a run twice a week on school nights. My advice to parents is to get creative and set some challenges – the first person to reach 5k in a week wins a prize, say. Or set quizzes or an “I-spy” challenge – anything to keep them interested”.
Get outside and get active
Want to get outside to exercise but not sure if it is Covid-safe? Then check out this brilliant website for outdoor pursuits from great walks to surfing and paddleboarding: getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk
Get moving with the Couch to 5K app. It's a running programme for absolute beginners which has now helped more than 4million people start running. It's free on both iOS and Android.
Another brilliant free app is Active 10, which records every minute of walking you do (anonymously). Just pop your phone in your pocket and away you go! Download it now on iOS or Android.
Sport England’s Join the Movement sportengland.org/jointhemovement has lots of ideas for new ways of staying fit, with live-streamed classes from Zumba to barre and beyond.
NHS England offers home workouts for all levels: nhs.uk/ conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/
Great for families (and beyond), runclusive.com is all about getting involved in running (or jogging), whatever your level. Every run earns you points, which you can then exchange for rewards.
For older readers, laterlifetraining.co.uk offers 20 minutes of videos described as “exercise snacks” at 8am, midday and 4pm with instructor-led training.
Move It or Lose It: Head to YouTube and search for these helpful workouts by specialist trainers. Visit moveitorloseit.co.uk to find classes and instructors near you.
Watch your alcohol intake
Drinking over 14 units of alcohol a week may put you at greater risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Try to keep at least three days a week alcohol free and stay within the safe limit.
Avoid unhealthy food habits
Being overweight can lead to a host of health problems, and can also cause complications if you contract Covid-19.
Dietitian Harriet Smith of HRS Communications (hrscommunications. com) says: “Spending more time at home coupled with increased anxiety can make us more likely to reach for foods high in calories, sugar and fat.”
To keep your diet healthy, it’s widely accepted that most people should try to:
■ Eat more whole grains (brown rice, wholemeal bread etc)
■ Limit fruit juice or smoothies to no more than 150mls per day
■ Include lean proteins at most meals (fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu, pulses etc)
■ Choose heart-healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, oily fish etc). Include oily fish at least once a week
■ Limit refined sugar/alcohol/ultra-processed foods
■ Stay hydrated (1.2ltr or 6-8 glasses fluid a day minimum)
■ Get some daily exercise
For more info visit nhs.uk/betterhealth.
Get your flu jab
If you’re over 65, pregnant or have a long-term health condition the advice is to have the flu vaccination. For a full list of those who are eligible for a free vaccination, visit the NHS website nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/ flu-influenza-vaccine/.
Keep topped up with vitamin D
It’s that time of year when we can’t make enough vitamin D from sunshine.
To keep your bones and muscles healthy it’s best to take a vitamin D supplement every day between October and early March.
This is especially important with many of us being indoors more than usual over spring and summer. You can get vitamin D from most pharmacies, as well as supermarkets and other retailers.
Just 10 micrograms a day is all you need – it’s the same for the whole family
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