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My winter survival guide

As a researcher into nutrition and all things health, I love the things that we can learn from our evolutionary past - it very often gives us clues about why we act in certain ways, and it has a LOT to tell us about why we are generally in lower spirits at this time of year.

We know winter can be the hardest time of year mood-wise but you may not know that some of this is due to our hibernation response (yes humans do have one). We evolved this in order to survive the winter. You might be surprised to learn that the winter blues is a genetic adaptation - something we have inherited from our evolutionary past. So what did the average caveman or cavewoman do to help them get through the winter?

  1. Our ancestors slept far more in winter than summer, between 12 and 14 hours were normal. Early nights can be a powerful mood booster. Get as much sleep as you can. If you wake in the night during winter this is also ok - we used to do this, its called the 'bi-phasic winter sleep pattern' - we would wake for an hour, stoke the fire, and go back to sleep! For a decent early night, it helps to lower the lighting after 8pm, and also turn off any blue screens (such as flat screen TV’s, computers and android phones) that emit a daylight glow that’s likely to keep you awake. For computers you can now install this wonderful free piece of software called f.lux, which will help reduce your exposure to the wrong type of light when its dark outside and your cave-brain wants to go to bed.

  2. With the onset of winter we crave carbohydrates for fat storage - fat storage helped give us energy in harsh conditions when there was little food, and helped to keep us warm. But nowadays we are surrounded by the dreaded mood-destroying sugary foods. Instead of trying to diet completely, maybe try sticking to starches such as potato and banana and avoid factory sugar instead. There's plenty of info out there if you are interested in the connection between sugar consumption and low mood, such as this PsychCentral article. Also reduce your alcohol consumption and have more nice cups of tea, since alcohol will also destabilise our mood in this already difficult part of the year. You may notice than by feb / march your carb cravings are reducing, as the days begin to lengthen again.

  3. DO LESS: We are designed to reduce our overall activity levels. Remember, if you are doing less in winter it’s not because you're a failure, it’s because you're a mammal! However......

  4. .......Some activity is still good. Walking during daylight hours will raise your metabolism, improve your circulation and boost your mood.

I wish you all a very healthy and safe winter solstice!

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