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‘Staving off the Winter Blues’ / Keeping the family healthy and happy throughout the winter months

Posted on 03 November 2017

As the clocks go back and the autumn draws in, here’s the latest thinking on how to stay energised as the colder months take hold. Launch a three-pronged attack on your family’s exercise, diet and sleep routines to keep everyone bright-eyed and bushy-tailed through the long winter ahead.

EXERCISE

Resist the urge to hibernate.  Invest in some warm outdoor gear, pack a thermos of hot chocolate and head out ‘en famille’ to kick up the autumn leaves. Sweep the garden, plant some bulbs, take off on mountain bikes and mastermind treasure hunts. Brace for extra laundry and let the kids splash about in muddy puddles! Play rounders and ‘stuck-in-the-mud’, or for younger children grab paper and crayons and go on bark and leaf-rubbing nature walks.  Fresh air and exposure to the sunlight’s Vitamin D will give everyone an invaluable boost. 

If it’s really too cold to stay outdoors there are plenty of indoor activities to keep cabin fever at bay without requiring acres of space. Arrange outings to sports centres, swimming parks, indoor and outdoor skating rinks and bowling alleys to keep spirits buoyant.

Take time to exercise alone.  A short break from juggling work, children and chores helps parents ‘re-boot’ and inject patience and positivity back into family life. Exercising outdoors in even the coldest of snaps can reap huge benefits, particularly for the estimated 20% of British adults who battle with seasonal affective disorder. Exercise is perfect for counteracting the Christmas calories and don’t forget those warm-ups and warm-downs to avoid aches and pains later on.

DIET

Avoid unhealthy comfort eating. Seek out healthy winter warmer recipes instead and pack the pantry with nutritious store-cupboard staples for rustling up nourishing meals when it’s too icy or wet to get to the shops. Stock up on frozen fruit and veg for soups, stews and smoothies - modern-day freezing techniques mean frozen produce is often more nutrient-packed than fresh alternatives, and cheaper to buy.

Eat seasonal produce to save pennies, support the environment and benefit from ingredients best suited to staying healthy at a particular time of year. Clementines are packed with vitamin C, squash is rich in vitamin A and carotenoids to boost immunity, and sweet potatoes are loaded with fibre to improve digestion and energy levels. Eat together as a family whenever possible. Meal times are great for sharing stories, addressing issues, having fun and creating a sociable and mood boosting ‘feel-good’ factor.

SLEEP

The demands of family life mean sleep can be hard to come by. But missing out on this indispensable recharge has a negative impact on short and long term physical and mental health. To set a good example for the children and achieve that all-important 7 to 8 hours slumber per night, take daytime action. Avoid evening exercise and stay away from caffeine and large meals close to bedtime. Drink alcohol in moderation and quit the nicotine. At night, create a good sleep environment by ensuring the room is dark and leave smart phones downstairs. Follow a strict bedtime routine, avoiding the temptation to potter about until midnight enjoying precious quiet while the children sleep. Try going to sleep at the same time and for the same number of hours every night - if still awake after 20 minutes in bed, read or meditate until drowsy.

For young children, create a calming and predictable routine, building in time to wind down.  Consider a nightlight if your child is afraid of the dark, and as lights-out approaches, avoid chatting or eye contact. While a bubbly bath, a favourite toy and a bedtime story are welcome, leave devices downstairs. For toddlers struggling to settle, cut out the daytime nap. If all else fails, keep a sleep diary and be assured that there’s plenty of professional help on hand.

For teenagers, the pressures of homework, socialising and social media make achieving the recommended average of 8 to 9 hours sleep per night tricky. Explain that sleep improves memory and academic performance, and give practical tips. Ensure that any worries are addressed and devices switched off by 8pm, and promote the adult sleep routine. Good habits now may be challenging to enforce, but once established they’ll last a lifetime.

With the right diet, exercise and sleep you’ll be going someway to ensure you feel healthy and happy in the run up to Christmas.