There is so much to enjoy and look forward to in the winter. Cold, crisp, sunshiny days and cosy evenings; fantastic seasonal produce for hearty soups, stews and casseroles; and of course, Christmas.
But for many of us, this can be accompanied by coughs, colds and flu (or the sheer dread of them). And while Christmas is a time to be jolly, it's easy to party hard, burn the candle at both ends, neglect your health and start to feel rough.
Some of you may also have the pressure of preparing for large family celebrations which can leave you feeling rather stressed and overwhelmed, which can also affect your general wellbeing.
But there are so many natural and effective things you can do to create and maintain a sturdy foundation to keep you fighting fit throughout Christmas and beyond.
We have listed a few for you here, and feel confident that if you follow some of our recommendations you'll have a better chance of staving off those winter nasties and recovering more swiftly if you do.
1) Drink plenty of water
Drinking adequate amounts of water is, hands down, the most important rule for good health and immunity.
It’s essential for a robust immune system and all the cells and organs of your body to function. It detoxifies you, supporting your liver and kidneys, aiding digestion and keeping you regular.
Water also lubricates joints, hydrates your skin and regulates body temperature.
Hydration, full-stop, is the best, but not all water is created equal, and there are ways to ensure that what you are drinking is as free from contaminants and ALIVE as possible.
At Water for Health, we provide a range of what we consider to be top-notch, superior water filters that not only purify drinking water but also alkalise and re-mineralise it.
These filters breathe life back into your tap water by infusing it with molecular hydrogen (H2), which reduces oxidative stress and promotes physiological balance.
H2 encourages healthy gene expression, modulates cell signalling and apoptosis (programmed cell death) while also providing anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.
Our filters remove microplastics, fluoride, hormone residues, drug residues and heavy metals. They also use the latest advances in bioceramics (natural mineral crystals in ceramic balls), to enhance water quality.
This improves the pH balance, providing antioxidants, raising its oxidation-reduction potential, and improving its structure.
There’s no one fixed amount when it comes to optimal water intake, as we are all unique with different requirements.
A basic rule of thumb is to aim for roughly two litres of water per day but learn to listen to your body and become aware of its needs.
If you’re not a big fan of water or forget to drink enough, find other ways to boost your intake like drinking herbal and fruit teas, green juices and smoothies.
You can also increase your consumption of vegetables and fruits with a higher water content – think cucumber, celery, watermelon and strawberries.
2) Eat well
This fundamental rule should underpin everything that you do to stay healthy. While it may seem obvious to you, it can quickly become neglected during December with all the Christmas and New Year socialising.
While it’s important to relax and have a fun time, it’s good to tune in and listen to your body. Enjoy some indulgences but be aware of when you’ve had enough and decline that extra drink or slice of Christmas cake.
Take every opportunity to eat as many whole foods as possible. Outside of social gatherings, limit sugar and alcohol. Make sure your meals have a balanced combination of healthy fats and proteins, complex carbohydrates and fibre.
Fill at least half your plate with a diverse and colourful range of vegetables, both raw and cooked. Be sure to eat lots of warming, nutritious herbs and spices with anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting properties like garlic, ginger, turmeric, chillis, cayenne pepper, oregano and cinnamon.
You can also regularly sip on herbal teas, and there are so many to choose from these days. Pukka has a diverse range of tasty blends with great health benefits.
Green tea is also an excellent option that is packed full of antioxidants and catechins to boost immunity, reduce inflammation and protect your cells from damage.
3) Eat foods high in zinc
Zinc is an essential nutrient which means that our bodies can’t manufacture or store it, so you need to get it from your daily diet.
An antioxidant, anti-inflammatory trace element, zinc is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and brain.
It is crucial for the growth and maintenance of your body, immunity, brain health, thyroid function, wound healing, blood clotting, vision, gene expression and much more.
Zinc has anti-viral activity towards the common cold, and low levels are linked to depression, so you can see how you could benefit from focusing on this mineral during cooler months to help ward off colds and alleviate the winter blues.
Zinc supplementation trials showed a 66% decreased incidence of infections in the elderly, and it is also known to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
To keep your immunity on track, eat zinc-rich foods daily. These include oysters and shrimp, beans including butter beans, almonds, pine nuts, dark chicken and turkey meat, lean red meat, hemp seeds, lentils, eggs, oats, quinoa and whole wheat. You could also take a daily supplement.
As many trials have found zinc can significantly reduce the symptoms and duration of colds, if you are suffering from a cold or flu, you could take a high-potency zinc supplement during this time as well as focusing on zinc foods.
The daily RNI for zinc in the UK is 7mg for women and 9.5mg for men aged 19 to 50 years. Too much zinc can inhibit copper absorption, so you need to be careful.
The safe upper limit in the UK for zinc supplementation is 25mg per day in adults. There is no evidence of adverse effects from dietary zinc.
4) Take fermented mushrooms
Fermented mushrooms directly benefit your immune system. They can improve your digestion, which in turn aids your immunity, and also have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Mushrooms are highly nutritious and rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, bioactive molecules, enzymes and immune-boosting polysaccharides.
Polysaccharides in mushrooms are encased in the cell walls of an indigestible fibre called chitin and are consequently hard to absorb.
However, Quantum Fermented Mushrooms use an innovative probiotic-fermented delivery system which effectively supplies these immune support compounds in an easily digested and absorbable form.
Not only that, but this multi-mushroom complex contains a powerful and organic immune blend with nothing but the pure ingredients in powder form. Just mix one scoop daily into food, a drink or a smoothie.
5) Eat dark leafy greens
Regularly eating a generous helping of dark leafy greens will work wonders for your overall health and wellbeing. Each serving will provide you with a bounty of nutrients including vitamin K, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamins E and C, iron, potassium, carotenoids, nitrates, ALA (omega 3), quercetin and antioxidants.
Vitamins C, K and folate are powerful immune boosters. Vitamin C may help to reduce the length of a cold, particularly in children. If you are an athlete or do regular intensive exercise, it may reduce your incidence of colds.
The nitrates in leafy greens also help to protect the liver, a precious organ with over 500 functions in the body. It’s a major detoxifier and helps to store key vitamins as a back-up should you need them.
If, like many of us, you tend to drink more alcohol and eat more rich foods around the holidays, you need to give your liver some extra TLC – and a daily serving of leafy greens will help.
Leafy greens include kale, spinach, collard greens, rocket, cabbage, beet greens, turnip tops, chard and bok choy. The darker the leaves, the more antioxidants they contain.
Antioxidants are well known for their impressive immune-boosting properties; they reduce free radical damage and inflammation and help to prevent many diseases.
The widespread consensus seems to be that antioxidants are far more effective in food form as opposed to isolated supplements. So, if you’d like to give yourself a real green boost over the winter, we have an extensive range of green wholefood-based powders, that are full of vitality, providing all the goodness and nutrients that real plant foods have to offer.
pHresh Greens is organic, natural and raw with a powerful blend of grasses and green superfoods including kale, collard greens, spinach and broccoli sprouts. It’s great added to juice, water, or a smoothie and doesn’t have an overpowering vegetable flavour.
You could also try Green Vibrance, a nutrient-dense blend containing over 70 ingredients including organic spirulina, organic oat grass and chlorella. It’s alkalising, gluten-free and brimming with antioxidant herbs, vitamins, and minerals plus 25 billion probiotics from 12 strains.
One scoop a day provides comprehensive nutritional support and is an excellent addition to your healthy winter regimen.
6) Have a daily cup of bone broth
Bone broth is incredibly nutritious and a cup a day can provide a generous helping of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, amino acids and other goodies.
It has gut-healing benefits, boosts immunity and prevents illness, calms inflammation, and improves joint health.
Some research shows that chicken broth may help to ease the symptoms of sore throats, colds and flu and even shorten their duration.
A good bone broth is easy to make. It’s best to use organic bones and simmer them for 24 hours in a slow cooker. You can find lots of recipes online.
7) Manage your stress and reduce anxiety
Whether your work is weighing you down, you’re taking on too many commitments, or struggling with emotional issues, stress and anxiety have an unprecedented impact on your health.
Christmas and New Year can also be a stressful time as many of us overextend ourselves and can start to feel overwhelmed.
Without being aware of your boundaries, limits, stress levels and the way that they affect you, it’s easy to wind up feeling low, unwell or worse.
It’s crucial to acknowledge and manage any stress and anxiety you may be experiencing. Do whatever works for you, but build calm moments into every day whenever you can.
Meditate for a few minutes in the morning or evening, do some yoga moves, take a swim or have a walk in nature. Listen to your favourite music, hug a tree, create, read, garden or just take a moment to breathe.
Above all, don’t forget to love, laugh and have fun.
8) Make sure you're getting enough sleep
Sleep is an essential part of looking after yourself, and we all know how rubbish a lousy night’s sleep can make us feel, causing tiredness, irritability and difficulty concentrating.
Lack of sleep can play havoc with your immune system, reducing your ability to ward off colds and flu.
The long-term impact of not getting enough sleep is significant and can contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, other chronic illnesses and depression.
Seven to nine hours of good quality sleep is ideal. To encourage a good night’s rest, switch off electrical devices at least an hour before bedtime.
Make sure you have heavy curtains or blackout blinds in your bedroom to block out any light. Maintain a room temperature of 16-18°C (60-65°F), and give yourself plenty of time to wind down before bedtime.
Having a warm, relaxing soak in Epsom Salts for 40 minutes before bedtime can help to relax your nervous system and encourage peaceful sleep.
Regular exercise helps you to shift toxins, calm inflammation and get your lymph and circulation moving.
Exercising outside and getting amongst nature can help to increase your strength and vitality, boost immunity, reduce inflammation and relieve stress.
Vigorous walking may help protect you from colds and flu, and if you do get ill, it may not last as long. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week, so aim for this in whichever form you choose.
Don’t forget that it’s essential to move as much as possible, so if you tend to sit a lot, get up and walk around at regular intervals. Take the stairs, walk up escalators, and get off the bus, tube or train a stop early, then briskly walk.
As you can see, there are plenty of natural approaches you can take to keep your immunity strong throughout the festive period and the rest of the winter.
You don’t have to do all of them, just pick a few that suit you and your lifestyle. It’s simple really – eat well, sleep well, exercise and get plenty of fresh air.
Spending time with others and getting out and about in your community also plays a valuable part in your overall health and wellbeing.
Written by Rebecca Rychlik, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Some research shows that chicken broth may help to ease the symptoms of sore throats, colds and flu.