Despite the heatwave last week, the misty mornings, hedgerows full of fruit and rich colours that characterise autumn are definitely with us.
I love this time of year. However autumn brings a return to school routines and more indoor activities. It’s therefore important to consider the potential challenges to our immune systems and mental wellbeing that these bring. Read on for some ideas on how to stay healthy this autumn.
Embrace the outdoors (even if it’s raining!)
Are you still relishing the warm, sunlit days of the Indian summer? Or beginning to get your winter clothes out of storage for the cooler autumn days and nights? Either way, spending time outdoors remains one of the most beneficial choices for our overall health.
The autumn sun may not provide as much vitamin D as earlier in the year. Nevertheless, venturing outside early in the day and exposing yourself to natural morning light can help reset your circadian rhythm. In turn, this can help to improve sleep quality.
Regular exposure to nature has also been proven to have positive effects on mental health. You don’t need to live in the countryside to reap these benefits. A stroll in your local park or putting on a coat and enjoying a cup of tea or coffee sitting in the garden will do.
Admittedly, it can be tough to venture out when the weather is grey and rainy. Though often the most challenging part is simply leaving the house. Committing to a brief 10-minute daily walk can still positively impact your mood and wellbeing. Who knows, this may naturally turn into a longer, more enjoyable excursion!
Can you commit to a 10-minute walk around the block after lunch each day?
Savour seasonal fruits and vegetables this autumn
The deep, rich colours of autumn are not only evident in the changing tree leaves, but also in the wonderful variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables at this time of year.
Hedgerows are brimming with blackberries at the moment. These are abundant in vitamin C, vital for maintaining a robust immune system. They are also rich in polyphenols, responsible for their deep purple hue. These powerful antioxidants are similar to those found in blueberries, earning them the “superfood” label. But blackberries are readily available for free! Please note that it’s advisable to pick blackberries away from busy roads and higher up on the plant. This reduces exposure to chemicals and contact with animals.
Luckily for us, autumn is also apple season. While raw apples are again high in vitamin C, stewed apples are known to aid digestion and relieve constipation. Combine blackberries and apples in a crumble; or stew and serve with live Greek yogurt for a tasty autumn treat you won’t want to miss.
Let’s not overlook the vibrant yellows and oranges of autumn squashes. These owe their brilliant colours to carotenoids in the flesh, the same family of phytonutrients found in carrots. Cooking or serving them with some healthy fats, such as a drizzle of olive oil or roasting in coconut oil, enhances the release of beta-carotene, making it more readily available for absorption and conversion into vitamin A within the body.
And finally a word for beetroot, whose vibrant purple just shouts of goodness! Beetroots offer support for the liver, so are a key vegetable in detoxification. Enjoy them grated in salads, roasted with other seasonal veg and served with chicken or halloumi, or as a juice with ginger for a potent detox shot! I have a roasted beetroot soup recipe, if you’d like to give it a try.
Prioritise immune support
Unfortunately coughs and colds are synonymous with the autumn and winter seasons.
However the good news is that certain vitamins and minerals have been extensively studied and shown to help reduce the frequency of catching them, and the duration if you do fall ill.
Vitamin C takes the top spot when it comes to immune support. It contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system in both adults and children and can help fight infection. In addition to blackberries and apples, vitamin C is abundant in a wide array of fruits and vegetables, especially kiwi fruit, peppers, citrus fruits, and leafy greens such as kale.
Vitamin D is another crucial player in maintaining the immune system’s normal function. While our bodies naturally produce it through sun exposure, the autumn sun is usually not potent enough to boost levels sufficiently. This means it can be beneficial to top up vitamin D from dietary sources and supplements. Mushrooms (leave them in a sunny place to increase levels), fish, and eggs are good sources of vitamin D.
Finally, zinc is the key mineral involved in immune support. It can be found in red meat, seafood (especially oysters), pumpkin seeds, eggs, and grains.
It may surprise you to learn that maintaining a healthy digestive system is also key to bolstering immunity. Research indicates that 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, thanks to the billions of bacteria comprising our microbiome. Incorporating fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and live yogurt into our daily diet can increase the population of these beneficial bacteria. At the same time, eating a variety of plant foods (especially prebiotics such as onion, garlic, green bananas, and cooked-and-cooled potatoes, pasta and rice) helps to feed the beneficial bacteria.
Equally important for good heath and wellbeing is the balance between staying busy with activities and taking moments throughout the day to relax and unwind. The benefits of engaging in activities you love have been scientifically demonstrated to have a profound impact on both physical and mental health, whatever the season.