We're past the shortest day, well in to Winter with Spring is on its way. Here are 8 tips to keeping yours and your kids health optimal for the rest of the cold and rainy season.
1. Eat nourishing food.
It's tempting to lay on the comfort foods on cold days and having a variety of fruit and veges can take a backseat. Loads of veges and fruit, however, in a variety of colours, are high in nutrients which will help support your immune systems to fight off the winter ills, so it's important to keep up the practice. There are heaps of recipes to spruce up some of those more comforting pasta/oven-bake/roast-type dishes with more veges added. If nothing else inspires, make a pot of soup using up the veges that have been forgotten in the fridge. Head to this link for some recipe ideas
2. Keep your fluids up.
When the weather is cooler, it feels like you don't need to drink as much as you're sweating less than in warm weather. But the need remains - you still lose water every day through all the usual ways and need to replace it. Added to this time spent indoors with heaters, fires and warm air conditioning, and your body could be getting very dry without realising it. Cool water doesn't necessarily need to be your only option - any fluid adds to your total water intake. Avoid increasing your number of coffees and black teas, or hot chocolate-type drinks. This just adds extra caffeine and calories which are not ideal. Instead, try some herbal or fruit teas, lemon with warm water, green or rooibos teas, soups and broths.
3. Basic hygiene.
Catch sneezes and coughs in the crook of your elbow and teach your kids to do the same (Covering your mouth and nose with your hands increases the chances of you transferring the germs to another surface/person you touch). Have tissues on hand, dispose of them in the toilet/rubbish bin immediately after use, and wash your hands with soap and water before touching anything else.
4. Fresh air.
There's a saying, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." Sure, it could be raining, snowing, blowing a gale, but it's very rare to have an ENTIRE day where the weather is too bad to get out. Grab your raincoat, gumboots, a warm hat and take yourself and the kids outdoors, even for 20 mins for a walk around the block, some puddle stomping, or a play at the park. The fresh air and exercise will invigorate you, blow some cobwebs out when the kids are getting scratchy and help stave off some of the germs floating around when you're cooped up inside breathing each others air.
Vitamin D, which is crucial to bone health is made in our bodies following exposure to UV light as well as being available in a few foods. Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with low mood, feelings of anxiety and depression, and low immune function. During winter when the NZ sun is less harsh, it is the perfect time to get outside and get some sun exposure on your bare skin (the necessary rays will not pass through sunblock or glass) to activate vitamin D synthesis. During Winter in the southern parts of New Zealand, sun exposure to the face, arms and hands for 2-3 hours over the week should be enough to maintain Vitamin D levels. A little more exposure is needed for darker-skinned people, and less for more northern regions. Vitamin D is also found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring), eggs, fortified dairy, cereal and legume products, but not in high amounts.
6. Air the house out.
Yes it's cold and often raining in Winter. It's still a great idea to get some fresh air circulating in the house though. Each day when our household gets up, I insist that the curtains are fully opened and windows opened even a crack. If you're without ventilation systems in your home, the damp from condensation can make it really hard to warm the house, you're breathing in the condensation over the day as well as adding to it, and it can create all sorts of problems with mould, lingering illness and bad smells. If nothing else, letting light and air in to the house in the morning by opening the curtains/windows boosts your mood and helps balance your circadian rhythms.
7. Rest well.
Try to get as much sleep as you can. Good quality sleep. Not fall-into-bed because you're run-ragged or wasted 2 hours of your life watching a ridiculous movie that you didn't like, past your bed time. The body performs most of its recovery and repair work while you're sleeping, help it out by using good bed and sleep routines for you and the kids. I'm also a big advocate of nipping illness in the bud as soon as possible. If I notice my kids starting to get a bit sniffly/coughing/run down, if at all feasible, I let them take a 'rest day' off school, before it becomes an ongoing cold that takes days/weeks to recover, and keeping our bugs at home helps to reduce the spread through school and work.
8. Keep up your hobbies and exercise!
Some of our activities might be curtailed in Winter due to weather limitations or early evening darkness. But if you can keep them up it's a great way to connect with your passions, interact with friends, relieve some boredom/frustration if you're cooped up in bad weather and it's great for your mental health. Physical activity does not need to be strenuous or prolonged to get the benefits. Moderate exercise supports your immune system, releases endorphins to boost mood and regulate sleep patterns. Have a dance party with the kids at home if you really can't get out, or move the car out of the garage and have a small ball game or mini-circuit training.