Laura’s Top 5 Things to Help Revamp Your Health After the Summer
As summer comes to a close, Dietitian Laura Tilt share’s five things to help you hold onto its feel good factor.
I don’t know about you, but I love the summer months, particularly when we are lucky to experience good weather. Waking up to bright sunshine, spending more time outdoors, eating lots of fresh colourful food, dining alfresco and a vacation (or staycation) from work all add up to some serious feel-good vibes.
There’s also research to suggest that we tend to experience less ill-health during the summer. One explanation (according to researchers from the University of Cambridge) is that our immune systems undergo seasonal changes. In one study published in 2015, a quarter of genes (some of which influence immune function) were found to be more active in the summer versus the winter.
It is not clear why this is, but changes in daylight and temperature may play a role. So, as summer comes to a close in the U.K. (which according to the Met office, is the 22nd September!) how can you revamp (change or rearrange) your lifestyle and habits to protect your health during cooler months ahead?
What Does Health Mean?
A good place to start is by reflecting on what health means. The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being – not merely the absence of disease. This is interesting, because health is often discussed purely in a physical sense, but our mental and social comfort and happiness are key to our health too.
With this in mind, here are five ways to nourish your physical, mental and social health over the coming months.
1. Get Some Morning Light (& take some vitamin D)
There’s no doubt that the mornings will get darker as we move into the colder months, but whilst you can, try to arrange your day so that you are exposed to some early morning daylight. This is important for regulating your body’s natural sleep wake cycle and may improve sleep quality.
Try sitting on the doorstep with a cup of tea or coffee (my favourite!), move your workout to the morning or walk part of the way to work.
Remember too that as the sunlight lessens, so too does vitamin D production, a hormone like vitamin which is made via the action of sunlight on the skin.
As well as supporting bone health, vitamin D is necessary for the normal functioning of the immune system. As it’s not widely found in food, a supplement (providing 10 micrograms a day) is recommended from October to April when sunlight is limited.
2. Find Ways to Continue to Exercise Outdoors
During the summer we’re more inclined to spend time outdoors, a habit which can have a positive effect on our mental health. Research suggests that spending time in nature can help us feel calmer and happier (read more about the benefits of nature here) and there’s even evidence to show we get a bigger mental health boost when we exercise outdoors versus indoors.
To maintain the benefits through the seasons, think about how you can take exercise outdoors. Walking and running can be done throughout the year (with the right cold weather gear!) but gardening, swimming and yoga in the garden are possible in the autumn. Or take your coffee date to the park instead of sitting inside.
3. Sign up for a Veg Box
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is one habit that has broad benefits for your physical and mental health. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been linked with a lower risk of conditions like cancer and heart disease, and the vitamins and minerals they contain (like vitamin C and zinc) are important for the normal functioning of the immune system. They’re also a rich source of fibre, which feeds your gut microbes.
In the U.K. it’s recommended that we aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (about five good handfuls), but the average is under four portions. One way to expand your vegetable intake is to sign up for a local veg box delivery – you’ll get seasonal veggies to your door and it’ll encourage you to try new varieties and recipes. Check online for a local scheme and remember that frozen and canned veggies count towards your intake – and are a handy way to supplement a fresh veg box.
4. Create a Calming Sleep Routine
According to a recent sleep survey, only 1 in 10 adults said they woke up feeling refreshed each morning. Not getting enough sleep can impact numerous aspects of our health from mood to appetite and our ability to concentrate at work, yet it’s easy to dismiss when it comes to our wellbeing.
I know that investing time in a calming sleep routine might seem like a luxury (especially for parents), but having a wind down hour before bed can make a real difference to your sleep quality. Dim the lights (this can help encourage sleep) and swap screens for a book, a warm bath, listening to music or practising some gentle stretches or yoga. And if you’re struggling to drop off, don’t underestimate the effects of switching out caffeinated drinks after 2PM – they can increase the time it takes to fall asleep.
5. Plan Some Mini Adventures
Summer encourages adventure and social activities which bring us joy. These tend to slow down during the winter months, but with a little planning you can keep the adventures going through the cooler months. Enrol a friend or loved one and brainstorm some joint adventures – brave an autumnal wild swim, book a camping trip to stargaze, watch the sun rise with a flask of hot coffee, forage for sloe berries, or plan a night hike followed by hot cider.
University of Cambridge. (2015). Seasonal immunity: Activity of thousands of genes differs from winter to summer. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/seasonal-immunity-activity-of-thousands-of-genes-differs-from-winter-to-summer
Chemist4U. (n.d.). UK 2018 Sleep Survey & Statistics. Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://www.chemist-4-u.com/sleep-study/