Wellbeing Article: Autumn Health by Amelia Freer

autumnal health

Updated Sept 2020

As we move into deep autumn, my thoughts turn toward preparing both my larder and myself for the cold months ahead. This transition has never been something I dread – I adore the new flavours of the bountiful harvest season and the riotous display of turning leaves far too much for that.

There is something so magical about crisp, clear autumnal mornings as the mist lazily clings onto the hills and the ripe apples and blackberries provide a viable walk-thru breakfast option while out for a walk. Autumn is a season I look forward to with open arms, but that ‘back to school’ feeling (why is it that this doesn’t seem to leave us, even as adults?) can be put to great advantage by motivating me to do a little thinking ahead, particularly when it comes to my health and wellbeing.

This article covers three key topics that I tend to think most about at this time of year. Click on the links below to skip straight to the relevant section, or read on for a more holistic view:

Immune Function

This year, perhaps more than ever, many of us are thinking about practical ways in which we can help to support our immune function to reduce the risk (or severity) of potential infections over the colder months.

A note on immune ‘boosting’:

I am often asked by readers and journalists for advice on ways to ‘boost’ our immune system. And I wanted to clarify that we cannot ‘boost’ our immune system, nor should we want to. An overactive immune system may lead to autoimmune disease or a significant widespread inflammatory state, neither of which are desirable. Nor, however, is an underactive or compromised immune system desirable, as it may increase our risk of infection. What I suggest we aim for instead is immune balance. The best way to achieve this is to nurture our whole body wellbeing in all the sensible ways we already know about; restorative sleep, regular activity, active stress management, good hand hygiene (and currently, any other personal protective recommendations), a nourishing and balanced diet, avoiding smoking and moderating alcohol intake. It’s not original, but it is effective.

Below are some tips on my own personal immune supporting strategies, which I perhaps focus a little more on, and am more diligent about, in these autumnal months.

1. We now are all very familiar with regular hand washing, as well as trying to avoid touching our eyes, nose or mouth too often. I carry these mini bottles of hand sanitiser around in my handbag, and these are my preferred facemasks. To avoid horribly dry hands, I use Bramley hand wash and a little of their hand cream at home, as I find it is the gentlest option for my skin. It also smells divine.

2. Staying hydrated helps to maintain the important barrier functions of mucosa (found in the mouth and lining of the nose) – so keep plenty of water to hand, or regular mugs of steaming herbal tea.

3. I support my beneficial gut bacteria (which we now know plays a key role in helping our immune systems to function) by eating a widely varied diet packed full of fibre (see my 3-part series on Gut Health). That means lots of different whole fruits, veggies, legumes (things like beans, peas and lentils) and whole, minimally processed grains. Take a look at my warming chickpea & pumpkin curry recipe for a fibre-packed and filling meal, or my autumnal carrot & turmeric soup (it’s one of the most popular recipes on the site).

4. Get enough zinc. Zinc is important for normal immune function, yet many of us don’t get quite enough in our diets. Seafood, shellfish and nuts / seeds are all great natural sources. One of my favourite ways to get a tasty zinc boost is to bake up a few batches of my crunchy nut & seed granola to enjoy with all the delicious stewed fruit of the season (great for breakfast and puddings).

5. Take time out to relax. Stress is one of the worst culprits for knocking our immune system back, meaning we are less efficient in fighting infections. Aiming for a realistic balance in all areas of life – family, life, work, other commitments – is a challenge in itself, but is probably the most important step to help manage your stress. What one small shift could you try this autumn to help reduce your own stress levels? What little promise could you keep to yourself on a daily basis to make some little time to care for you? This book is filled with great stress-relieving tips and advice if you’re stuck for inspiration.

6. Don’t forget about vitamin D. We don’t make enough vitamin D in our skin here in the UK between October and March and it is hard to get enough from food sources alone during these months. Government guidelines therefore recommend that all adults consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms / 400IU vitamin D per day during the autumn and winter months. Advice for children and babies varies. Please see my comprehensive vitamin D article for more information on safe supplementation.

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Bramley hand sanitizer

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Cloth masks

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Bramley nourishing hand wash & cream

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Bulk mixed nuts

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Vitamin D spray

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Time to drink water bottle

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Fatigue

It can be really tough some days, when the weather is foul and the nights are drawing in, to resist the urge to just curl back under your duvet and enter full hibernation mode. But I have found that there are a few great ways to help boost my own energy enough to fight off those urges and seize the day instead. For those of you severely affected with seasonal fatigue, however, do take a read of my article on Seasonal Affective Disorder too. As always, it’s sensible to discuss persistently low energy levels with your doctor in the first instance.

1. Get enough sleep. This is so often the cause of low energy and morning fatigue, and although it is obvious (and easier said than done for some), it is a really important point. If you need to wake up at 7am, and you know that you need 7-8 hours sleep for optimal energy, then that means you need to be in bed, ready to sleep by 11pm most nights. Most people take 30 mins to 1 hour to wind down after a long day, perhaps with a bath or shower, a warm drink and some time reading, so factor this in too. There is no shame in seeking out an early night. Do try to observe a ‘technology sundown’ too – ideally leaving all electronic devices outside of your bedroom whilst you sleep. Check out my article on 9 tips for a great night’s sleep for more ideas.

2. Get outside. Being outside in nature is a great way to see the beautiful colour displays of the changing leaves, and fresh air, a little sunshine and a bit of bracing cold can do absolute wonders to our energy levels (most especially if we are still working from home). I love the Swedish phrase that there ‘is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ because it reminds me that a spot of rain is never so bad, so I grab my wellington boots and waterproofs and get outside anyway – and always feel better for doing so.

3. Move in a way that works for you. I know that it can feel harder to motivate yourself to keep moving over the colder months than it is over the summer, but getting regular exercise usually boosts energy rather than sapping it. Any movement counts – so choose what you enjoy most. I like to walk most days and have recently been doing a cardio and resistance session a couple of times a week too. I also adore Movement for Modern Life (an online yoga platform).

4. Watch out for excessive sugar. Swinging high and low blood sugars make us feel tired, and the commonest cause of this is a high-sugar (or high refined carbohydrate) diet or reliance on sugary snacks or drinks. When we are feeling lethargic it may seem like we need a sugary pick-me-up as a ‘boost’, but it can in fact make matters worse in the long run. Getting enough protein with our meals helps to tackle any hunger that can lead to a sugary binge – and breakfast is often the most important point to boost protein intake. If you need some nourishing breakfast inspiration, there’s over 80 ideas in this article, or do as I do and have a go at making my everyday breakfast. There are lots more nutritious, energy-boosting recipes in Simply Good For You.

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Fitflop wellies

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Sunrise alarm clock

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Wild Nutrition B Complex Plus

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Cork yoga mat

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Energising aromatherapy

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Simply Good For You

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Seasonal Food

Although summer may nearly be over, the sudden abundance of delicious autumnal food is more than enough compensation. There is something deeply satisfying about filling up my freezer or food cupboards with lots of fresh and vibrant produce to see me through the winter months. It means that I can keep enjoying a wide variety of home-grown or local produce long into the winter – promising me a little ray of sunshine to brighten a gloomy January or February morning.

Here is a list of some of my favourite British foods in season over autumn, plus a few recipe ideas to make the most of them.

try these autumn recipes

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Willow oven dish

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Peeler

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Knives

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Chopping Board

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Soup bowl

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Cast iron casserole

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The above content is for general information only and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare or nutrition professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. Please discuss all supplements with a qualified nutrition or healthcare provider prior to commencing.