Beat those winter blues


January is almost over - woohoo! Spring is another month closer. The days are slowly getting longer and I now wake to hear not just my daughter calling me, but the birds singing in the trees outside my window.

To make things even better, the sun came out for three whole days last week. It was cold and frosty and beautiful. Me and my little girl spent those three days going to the park, feeding the ducks, walking along by the river and trying to stay outdoors for as long as possible.

It was the best I'd felt since winter started. My mood improved, my sleep improved and I had so much more energy. Bliss.

I know a lot of my friends suffer adversely to the effect of the dark winter months, both mentally and physically. I know our first instinct when it's cold and gloomy outside is to snuggle up in the warm and eat comfort food. During the Christmas holidays it's positively encouraged, which is why, come January, we feel so rubbish.

Why then, when I open any women's magazine in December/January, am I faced with diet and exercise regimes aimed at us losing the Christmas flab? Yes, eating well and losing weight do have health benefits. Yes, exercise, ditto. But why, oh why do these regimes feel like punishment and, if you fail to stick to them, leave you feeling like a total failure?

I think it's because the body is somehow treated as if it is a separate entity to our minds.

Foods are banned or limited - straight away that's going to make us feel deprived. The exercise regimes often feel equally punishing. If it's not an activity that's easy to fit into our daily lives, or one that we don't actually enjoy, this will add to our misery.

When I used to start every year with the best intentions of getting slimmer and fitter, my mood plummeted after the first couple of days. Of course I gave it up and felt even more miserable. It was a punishing cycle that I have thankfully escaped.

I now eat a wide range of healthy food which I enjoy - and yes, I eat chocolate and cake too when I fancy it. Now that it's not a banned food I'm able to eat it in moderation. As for exercise, I love to walk. I gave up my car four years ago and I walk pretty much everywhere, pushing my daughter in her stroller. Great exercise in the fresh air. Yes, I've been drenched a few times when the heavens have opened, but even that can feel exhilarating.

What I've discovered about the link between food, exercise and improved mental and physical health isn't new, but it is starting to gain wider interest. I recently read a really interesting article about Rachel Kelly who had suffered from depression and anxiety for years. She's now written a book about 'good mood food', making the link between eating well and feeling well.

As for exercise, walking is accessible, free and known to improve mood and fitness. The 10,000 steps a day challenge has been around for some time and trendy Fitbits, wearable tech that track how much activity you do, has 10,000 steps as a motivational starting point for users.

So, get off that stationary bike at the gym, pull on some warm clothes, head out into the winter sunshine. Say 'Hi' and smile at people you pass in the street and I guarantee you'll feel great... especially if you have a nice destination to aim for... like a cafĂ©. Chocolate sprinkles on my cappuccino, please.

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