words by Kathleen Fleming

The clocks have changed, we have had our extra hour in bed and now we are faced with 6 months of the dark and cold. But the winter doesn’t have to be a reason to lapse into comfort eating and a state of depression. There are a few things we can do to boost our immune system, keep our emotional wellbeing on track and make ourselves feel great all the way through to the next clock change.

Get Your Vitamin D
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression occurring in the winter due the lack of sunshine. It is a very real problem in the UK and when the darkness sets in, so does that winter depression. It has been shown that increasing intake of vitamin D can make a difference to the mental health of those affective by winter blues. Vitamin D is also crucial for bone health and our immune systems. It is a well-known fact that we get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Unless you are lucky enough to afford multiple sunshine holidays, it is possible that you may not get enough vitamin D during the winter months. In order to ensure you get enough vitamin D try heading outside at least once a day, such as a thirty minute walk at lunch time. If the winter weather is not playing ball and walking outside is not an option, you can increase your intake of vitamin D by eating foods such as fatty fish (salmon or tuna), eggs and mushrooms. You can also take vitamin D supplements which are available at most health shops and pharmacies.

Add Lemon
Lemons provide a great vitamin C boost. Vitamin C is vital for maintaining general health and sufficient intake of vitamin C may be useful in staving off those nasty winter colds and the flu. An age old remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with lemon water or drink hot water with lemon and honey. Not only are lemons full of vitamin C they also have anti-bacterial, digestive system and liver cleansing properties. A great way to start a cold morning is with a cup of hot water with lemon. Alternatively add a slice of lemon to your herbal tea or a glass of cold, filtered water.

Soak Yourself
Light a few candles, run a warm bath, add some oils or salts and relax. As well as warming up a cold body, a hot bath has numerous health benefits. A hot bath has a similar effect to a massage and aids deep muscle relaxation which is perfect post-exercise or if you are feeling stressed. Also if your bath is hot enough to induce a little sweating you will be getting rid of toxins, stimulating circulation of blood and drainage of lymph – a full detox. A long, hot bath has psychological benefits too. It allows us to unwind, relax and forget about the pouring rain outside. If you add oils or salts such as coconut oil, your dry winter skin will be moisturised as well as detoxed.

Do Yoga
It is very easy to retreat the cosiness of the sofa when it gets dark and chilly. However, in order to avoid that winter coat of excess weight we need to keep our bodies moving. Yoga tones, strengthens and improves flexibility but what differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise is the effect that it has on our mind. Research has shown that practicing yoga three times a week can help fight off depression, such as seasonal affective disorder. The reason for this is that the practice of yoga boosts levels of the amino acid GABA in the brain which is vital for a calm and relaxed mind. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other anxiety disorders. Even if it is miserable outside, yoga is an activity that you can do without having to leave the warmth of your house. Get yourself a yoga mat and a good yoga dvd, light some candles, put on some relaxing music and do your own practice. Or if you aren’t confident enough to practice on your own, most yoga teachers do private sessions or lead small groups at their clients’ homes.

Eat Soup
Soup is a wonderful winter meal. A hot bowl of healthy soup can warm, comfort and nourish us. Soups are so easy to make and can be incredibly nutritious. You can also make big batches and freeze soup so you have a quick, healthy dinner for when you get home from work on a blustery, dark evening. The best winter soups make use of seasonal ingredients such as sweet potatoes, squashes, leeks and parsnips. Unfortunately a lot of ready-made soups are loaded with sugar, salt, cream and preservatives. However, soups are so quick to make and by making your own you can keep them healthy. My favourite winter soup recipe is below:

* 3 big sweet potatoes
* 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
* 2 big sticks of celery (cut into small pieces)
* 1 big white onion (finely chopped)
* 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
* 1 teaspoon medium curry powder
* 2 teaspoons of garam masala powder
* 4 cups of vegetable stock
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* sea salt and black pepper
* fresh coriander

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Cut the sweet potatoes into thick rounds and place on a baking tray. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over them and sprinkle some sea salt and black pepper. Place the garlic cloves onto the baking tray with the sweet potatoes. Place the tray in the oven and bake the sweet potatoes and garlic for around 45 minutes or until they are soft.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, add the remaining olive oil and onion to a pan. Cook for a couple of minutes before adding the spices and the celery. Cook for a couple minutes more. Take the pan off the heat.

Boil 4-5 cups of water with vegetable stock in a pot.  Take the sweet potato out of the oven, remove the soft sweet potato from the skin and add to it to the onion/celery mix. Remove the roast garlic from its skin and add to the mix. Stir the sweet potato and garlic into the mix so that they are well covered in spices.

Add all of the vegetables to the stock and bring the pot to boil. Allow the soup to simmer for 15 minutes. After simmering, remove the pot from the heat and blend in batches until it is smooth. Add more water if it is too thick.

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