Autumn is a great time to ramp up your efforts to boost your health and energy levels. The days are not so short that the winter gloom has set in and Christmas is still far enough away that your social calendar is not yet full with parties and after work drinks.
It really is an excellent time to be thinking about what changes you can make to your lifestyle to help get you through the colder, darker months with better energy and health.
For most people, it’s illness that has the biggest hit on their energy levels over winter. This winter will be no exception as we emerge from our semi-sterile lockdown bubbles into a world of greater socialising (much of it indoors) and the inevitable germ-spreading that comes with this.
Even the mildest of colds can take a toll on your energy levels, simply because your body is working hard to fight it off. Once you add a few disturbed nights’ sleep into the mix due to nocturnal coughing and spluttering, your energy drops even lower.
In my opinion, the number one area to focus your winter health efforts on is ensuring your immune system is functioning as well as possible. A properly functioning immune system will help protect you against illness and recover more quickly if you do become ill.
How do you look after your immune system?
Making healthy choices in terms of what you eat (i.e. lots of fresh, unprocessed plant based foods, reducing sugar, alcohol and beige carbs), getting enough sleep and exercise and managing your stress will go a long way towards keeping your immune system in good shape.
However, there are some specific things you should be looking to add to your diet which can help boost your immunity.
First up, is foods rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants such as citrus foods, leafy green vegetables and berries – and kiwifruit!
The case for kiwifruit
One of my favourite immune boosting foods is the kiwifruit – it’s high in vitamin C and is a source of Vitamin E (also important for immune health) and the skin is packed full of antioxidants. So don’t peel them! If you dislike the fuzzy texture of the skin, you can pop the unpeeled fruit into a smoothie and blitz it up. You can slice and freeze unpeeled kiwifruit for use in smoothies etc and you can buy them ready-frozen from most supermarkets. Kiwifruit are generally imported into the UK so to reduce food miles look for the ones grown in places like Italy and France.
Fantastic fermented foods
The second type of immune-boosting foods you should consider adding to your diet are those which contain probiotics and prebiotics – essentially foods which help the good bacteria in your gut do their job. Up to 80% of your immune system resides in your gut (otherwise known as the microbiome) so it’s really important to focus on your gut health, especially over the winter months.
Not sure what’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
Probiotics are foods, or food supplements, that contain live bacteria thought to be beneficial to us. This includes live yoghurt, some cheeses and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi (types of fermented cabbage), kefir (fermented milk) and kombucha (fermented tea)
Prebiotics are foods that ‘fertilise’ our existing gut bacteria and encourage the development of a diverse community of microbes. Bananas are especially rich in these, as are other fruit, barley, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, soya beans, asparagus, chicory and wheat
You can also buy probiotic and prebiotic supplements, but naturally fermented foods are much richer in the good bacteria which your gut loves!
Keep up with exercise
Studies have shown that regular moderate intensity exercise helps to maintain a healthy immune system. However, if you do become unwell, you need to give your body a chance to recover so don’t push yourself too hard – dial back the intensity and rest when you need to.
Things to swerve
Too much sugar, alcohol and highly processed foods can have a detrimental effect on your gut health, so try to keep quantities of these to a minimum.
The same goes for late nights. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule and ensure you get a good night’s sleep by avoiding screens in the hour before bed and caffeine late in the day.
The awesome news is that everything you do to help boost your immunity will also help boost your energy levels. So it’s a win/win!
Here’s a healthy and energised you this winter,