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Stay Healthy

During winter, many of us experience a fall in spirits and motivation. Some people just lose their summer sparkle, while for others winter seems to trigger a serious cyclical depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Try to follow this to make the darker months of the year much brighter!

Keep eating well

When it's warm and sunny outside, it's easier to motivate yourself to eat a healthy diet. But while salads and fruit seem natural for sunny summer days, it is all too easy to turn to the chocolate and junk food during the long winter nights.

The vitamins, minerals and micronutrients found in a balanced diet not only keep us slim and protect our immunity, but also help to ward off depression. For example, the feel-good hormone serotonin is manufactured in our bodies from foods that contain the amino acid L-trytophan2 (which comes from a variety of foods including bananas and turkey). Good dietary levels of omega-3 fatty acids (obtained from oily fish) may also protect against depression, as well as heart disease.

On cold winter evenings, salads and fruit may not be particularly appealing. Nutritious as well as delicious winter "comfort"  foods are, for example, jacket potatoes ( eat them with baked beans or cottage cheese instead of butter to keep the fat content down, add some leafy green vegetables or a salad and you will have a nutrient-packed winter meal), homemade soups are wonderfully comforting and low in calories.

Get some activities

You might feel tired and lazy for exercising. Yet physical activity will improve your energy levels and help to alleviate depression. It will also help to ward off unwanted Weight gain over the winter months.

  • choose something that you enjoy. Whether it's walking, cycling, running or salsa dancing a bit of what you fancy does you good.
  • build up slowly but consistently, especially if you feel exhausted. A 30-minute walk may seem impossible today, so why not try a 15-minute walk instead? Aim to get moving at least five days a week.
  • if you can find an activity that gets you outside, the winter sunlight may also give you a boost.

Tell your family and friends

If the winter really is a yearly struggle for you, it is important to let your friends and family know so they can help and support you. If you are feeling irritable and down, then it will have a knock-on impact on family life; your loved ones need to understand what the problem is, and how they can help and support you.

Talk to your doctor

If you suffer from serious, ongoing feelings of sadness, you should always talk to your GP, whatever the time of year. You may be suffering from clinical depression - a serious condition that may require medication or counselling support to see you through to recovery.

Unlike the blues, when you might feel down for a short time, depression is a state of mind that you can't just "snap out of". Typical symptoms of depression include fatigue, sleep problems (and early morning waking), loss in appetite, feelings of worthlessness and uncontrolled sadness.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

This is a form of depression that affects people over the darker months of the year. It is similar to clinical depression, although certain symptoms - such as carbohydrate cravings and Weight gain - are more typical for SAD.Some experts think it is caused by a lack of natural light over the winter months, but others argue that the causes are unclear.

One of the SAD treatments is a light box - large boxes that emit a strong light that emulates sunlight (popular and safe treatment). Sitting close to one for a couple of hours a day boosts your amount of daily light. Most people with seasonal depression report an easing of symptoms with this kind of treatment.

Other ways of getting more light in the winter could also be worth a try. A brisk walk in the winter daylight every day, or even a holiday abroad might pep you up, as much for the exercise and change of scene as for the light.

Talk to your GP if you decide on taking antidepressant medications.

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Healthy Lifestyle Tips

BUPA UK: Healthy living - health information and help from BUPA. Christmas health tips Emotional health.
Prime Time: Gentle steps to a healthy lifestyle. Making the most out of life over 50.
For lots of health tips take a look at www.ivillage.co.uk

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