Healthspan Staff October 16, 2018

Winter is the season of hibernation. We finish work and head home, leaving our brollies at the door along with our health and wellbeing. Dark evenings leave little inspiration for anything other than comfort food and an evening on the sofa - and who can blame us? It’s cold outside! 

Advising you to layer up and get outside or replace comfort food with vitamin-rich meals is all good and well, but we’ve taken a different approach with this year’s winter-wellbeing advice.

Whether it’s dancing the night away in the Faroe Islands or stocking up on freshly caught fish in Iceland, we’ve scoured the globe asking: what do really cold countries do? How can we take inspiration from those using winter to their advantage, rather than give in to the stereotype of a cosy evening in? With experts giving you tips along the way, we’ve crowned three communities winter warriors. Take a look inside to find out more.

First stop… Iceland

There’s a lot we can learn from our Icelandic friends. Nutritionist Rob Hobson puts the outstanding cardiovascular health of Icelanders down to a diet low in saturated fat but high in omega 3.

Eat like an Icelander

  • Omega 3
    Rob says ‘Locally caught fish is big in Iceland, with cod being a low-fat source of protein that’s high in vitamin B12 and selenium, and salmon being a fantastic source of omega 3, which supports cardiovascular health and could even boost your memory. People here focus on eating seasonally, too – which means food contains no additives and is, in some cases, more nutritionally dense'.
  • Yoghurt, lamb and seaweed
    Rob says,‘Yoghurt (especially high protein variations) is also popular among Icelanders. As is lamb which is high in iron, a mineral often lacking in the diet of teenage girls, and Icelandic seaweed which contains an abundance of nutrients including iodine, zinc, magnesium, copper and even calcium’. 
  • Herbs
    A big fan of seasoning with herbs and not too much salt, Rob advocates Icelandic herbs like sorrel, dill and thyme, too. ‘Be generous with herbs as they encourage you to cut back on salt, which is a big contributor to high blood pressure’.

According to the Bloomberg health index, Icelandic people are the second happiest people in the world. Dr Meg Arroll says ‘It’s not just diet that keeps our Icelandic cousins healthy. The geothermally heated springs in Iceland are ideal locations for relaxation – something us Brits are not so good at doing. Whether it’s ten minutes or an hour, finding time to switch off your mobile phone and pause life for a moment is an important part of wellbeing. Set a daily timer that tells you to make a cuppa and lower those stress levels, before they get too high.’

Next stop…Japan

Okinawa, Japan, is one of the few places worldwide where the average life-expectancy is around 90 and Dan Buettner, who’s researched what makes those in Blue Zones live for so long, puts part of this feat down to social networking. People in Japan are placed in social groups known as a ‘moais’ from a young age. Formed of five friends who offer lifetime support to each other, moais are a unique way of preventing loneliness later in life and provide people with emotional or even financial help when times are tough.

Looking to benefit from your own moai? Dan Buettner suggests curating your social network to focus on three to five friends that you see regularly – rather than on a flurry of old friends that are tricky to keep in contact with. If you don’t have a ‘set’ of friends, seek groups of people that have similar passions. Try joining a local walking club or book club – whatever it is that interests you!

You might associate Japanese culture with being busy and hectic, but bathing in onsens – hot springs – is a tradition believed to offer copious mental and physical health benefits. The Japanese believe each hot spring offers a unique blend of natural minerals, whether it’s iron for painful joints or sulphur for high blood pressure.

Next stop…Faroe Islands

Harsh winters and a windy, wet climate; the people of the Faroe Islands must be pretty miserable, right? Wrong. As soon as they can walk, islanders are introduced to fishing, hiking, rowing and all manner of outdoor pursuits that lead to them reaping the health rewards of regular exercise. One tradition that claims part-responsibility for the wellbeing of the Faroe Island’s population has caught our eye, though – and that’s the Faroese chain dance. The reason dancing has so many benefits? It boosts physical and cognitive health, as well as strengthening social bonds which have been shown to lower the risk of depression. Cognitive psychologist Dr Peter Lovatt says, ‘Studies show regular dancing can help to keep you a healthy weight, as well as protect against illnesses including heart disease and arthritis. It has a pain-killing effect and reduces stress levels, too.’ With no reliance on the weather, it sounds like the perfect winter hobby to us.

Google is your best bet for sourcing local dance classes – whether that’s a class specifically for burning calories such as ‘zumba’ or one that focuses on learning a technique like ‘salsa’ or ‘tango’. Most classes are a mixture of couples and solo dancers that join up together.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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