Winter Wellness

Winter Wellness
Stay healthy in winter, even if you don't feel like it.
Summer's healthy habits can be a struggle in the cold, but the extra effort is worth it. Here's a list of 5 key things to keep in mind this winter.
Dr Avron Urison
Dr Avron Urison - CEO: HealthCare Plan
30 June 2022 | 6 minute read
Winter Wellness Website no text

It’s cold and nothing warms you up like carbs and grease. Amagwinya and mince, kota and tjips, pizza, pasta, potjie, and pudding. When it’s winter, we want those calorie-rich meals and their added insulation against the cold. But what then? Magies vol, ogies toe! The comfort of a full stomach and a warm bed is undeniable, but it is possible to overdo both those things.

Winter sees us forgo many of our health commitments because, let’s face it, who wants to get out of bed in this weather? You know you should probably eat a vegetable, but it’s 2°C outside and you’d rather have it covered in melted cheese.

Bad habits picked up in winter do not necessarily melt away with the frost.

No one is going try and take away the winter snoozes but giving into temptation everyday can have worse consequences than summer clothes that are a bit tight.

Here is a list of things to watch out for and why

1. Excess weight-gain: Calories vs Nutrients

    Calories and kilojoules are how we measure the energy available in the food we eat. Nutrients are the proteins, vitamins, and minerals in our food that make up a healthy, balanced diet. Our bodies use the calories as the fuel, and the nutrients as tools to keep all our complex systems running smoothly.

    The struggle in winter is with our two favourite nutrients: Carbohydrates and Fats. While we do need them, they are so rich in calories that we need less of them than we think.

    A balanced meal has lots of nutrients and just enough calories to give us energy for the day. The more we move, the more calories we burn. We need them like a car needs petrol. So, the more active you are, the more calories you need. The big “but” is that the opposite is also true: The more you sit and chill, the fewer calories you will need.

    We have to make these choices because our tummies do not have auto-stops like petrol tanks, so we can have too much fuel. While we may start to feel uncomfortable after a big meal, if what you’re eating is calorie rich, it doesn’t need to be that big for it to be a calorie overload.

    When we put more fuel into our bodies than we can burn at one time, it gets stored for later. Not in a bakkie in the fridge, but as fat. We all need some fat; it helps us absorb certain nutrients (Like vitamin C!) and acts as a shock absorber in our buttocks and around our organs. However, too much fat being stored everyday will lead to excess kilograms and centimetres which can negatively affect every aspect of your health. From strain on your heart, lungs, and liver to permanently upsetting your body’s chemistry, leading to the onset of diabetes and other diseases that can be hard to treat.

    These problems can extend to other areas like your mental health. Unwanted weight gain can make one feel unhappy and anxious which has knock-on effects in all aspects of your life. Feeling uncomfortable in your body can contribute to depression, which can make trying to lose the weight seem impossible, which makes you feel even worse.

    In order to break that vicious circle, we need to see where we can make better choices. If you choose the high nutrient, low calorie foods more often than their calorie-rich alternatives, you will start yourself off in the right direction. If you’re wondering where to start, try this tasty mood-booster.

    2. Couch time.

    The idea of getting off the couch and heading outside for a walk or a jog may seem awful in this weather but getting up and moving around is vital. Shivering under a blanket is not the workout you want it to be. While it is helping you burn a few calories to keep warm, actual exercise will do much more. The desire to sleep in and have naps, or stay on the couch is perfectly understandable, but sitting too much can mess up your circulation, your sleeping patterns and even your digestion.

    A workout will warm you up by burning calories and increasing your blood flow, defrosting your fingers and toes! If you work hard enough to get a bit out of breath, that is even better, because it will help balance some of the calories from lunch!

    3. Salt

      Slaptjips and biltong may seem like excellent winter snacks, we do have to tell you that too much salt is not a good idea either. You know how thirsty you get when you eat something very salty? That is your body reacting to the salt. Your body will hold onto water to try and “wash” the salt away, this causes bloating and excess pressure on your blood vessels.

      This can cause high blood pressure and put you at risk for a heart attack. Try to avoid heavily salted food like biltong, things preserved in brine, and keep a careful watch on the amount of salt you add to your meals.

      4. Processed starch

        Processed starch is not only high-calorie and low-nutrient, but it also has very little fibre. If you have ever looked at all the high-fibre products in the cereal aisle and wondered what the appeal was, we have news for you. Fibre is key to keeping your gut moving and healthy. Processed starch, like the fine white flour in many bread products, has almost no fibre and tends to slow down that all important gut movement, leading to bloating and constipation. Rather choose whole-grain cereals and breads where you can, to make sure you get the husk of the seed, which is an excellent source of fibre.

        5. Sugars

          There are different kinds of sugars and not all of them were created equal, but the ones to be aware of are the simple sugars we find in sweets and chocolates and other easily available, super-tempting treats from the take-away counter. Sugar is great in small amounts, but we tend to have too much and that is a problem. Sugar is technically a carbohydrate (outlined in point 1) but besides the physical health side, there is the mental health side. Many of us will get a tasty treat for ourselves when we need cheering up, and we will feel better afterwards. For a while. Then it goes away, and we want more. This is not even specific to very sweet things, since we use sugars in many different foods because of the immediate positive reaction when we taste it. Meaning we eat A LOT more sugar than we realise.

          The temptation may be to make things easier and just cut out everything on the list and think that that’s nailing a healthy lifestyle, but the most important thing is balance. Everything on this list is fine, even necessary, in small quantities every now and then. But all day, every day is too much. And it’s the “too much” that will negatively affect your health.

          So choose the salad more often than the vetkoek, choose the walk over the nap and stay healthy this winter.

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