Holidays may be synonymous with relaxation and lounging, but often, they’re a chance to be more active too, particularly if your lifestyle is usually quite sedentary. Even some gentle sightseeing could mean a health-enhancing boost in activity levels, and this could kick-start healthy habits to take back home with you too. “Going away is a good excuse to get active,” says physiotherapist and osteopath Tim Allardyce of Surrey Physio (www.surreyphysio.co.uk). “Even just 20 minutes of walking is enough to show considerable health benefits to the joints, cardiovascular system and general fitness levels. Give yourself the target of walking every day, whether it’s to visit a museum or tourist attraction, or to get a new experience. “If you’re lucky enough to have a pool at your hotel, use it! Swimming every morning for 15 minutes is a great way to loosen joints, and start you on your day in the right frame of mind. Swimming is beneficial for backache as well as improving core strength.”
Reports have highlighted that significant numbers of Brits are lacking in vitamin D – which plays a vital role in a number of health functions including maintaining strong bones and muscles and regulating moods – and it’s believed the UK’s long, cloudy winters are partly to blame. Our bodies need direct sunlight to create vitamin D (though dietary sources also play a role), therefore, booking some winter sun means a chance to top up. “Vitamin D is vital for health, and good stores can help protect against coughs and colds, boost bone strength and help keep your circulation healthy and mood on an even keel,” says GP and health author Dr Sarah Brewer (www.drsarahbrewer.com).
It isn’t always the case, but some people with certain long-term conditions find that sunshine tends to relieve certain symptoms. Skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema for example; many people find a bit of sunshine leads to improvement. Cold weather can also worsen symptoms for those who suffer with chronic aches and pains, joint problems and inflammation, while warmth has a soothing effect. “If the climate is warmer, there is a good chance your body will feel more comfortable with less aches and pains, as the heat tends to help joint mobility,” says Allardyce, who adds that the sun’s stimulation of vitamin D levels can also help “reduce joint pains and muscle aching”.
We tend to see holidays as a chance to over-indulge, whether it’s taking full advantage of the hotel buffet, sampling all the local cuisine or enjoying more desserts than usual. When it comes to jetting off for some winter sun however, a holiday could mean a chance to eat more healthily – as this is the time of year when, back home, meals become heartier and stodgier.
“Leaving the cold weather and stodgy food craving behind for sunnier climes can boost your mood, and give you the opportunity to experience other countries’ food offerings, such as fruits, salad, vegetables and freshly caught fish, all of which contribute to a healthy diet,” says Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist for Healthspan (www.healthspan.co.uk). This, he points out, equates to a boost in nutrients, plus we tend to eat lighter meals in the heat, which usually means fewer calories. Again, you could use your holiday to kick-start a healthy-eating regime back home. “Avoid take-aways and kebab shops while away, and try to eat good quality, fresh food. It will help with energy levels and reduce tiredness,” notes Allardyce.
We often describe wintry weather as “miserable”. For people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) however, a form of depression that occurs during winter months, this time of year can be a real struggle. Experts aren’t entirely sure what causes SAD, though it’s believed lack of sunlight plays a key role, impacting melatonin (a hormone vital for sleep) and serotonin (which affects mood and appetite) levels, as well as a disrupted circadian rhythm (body clock). SAD can range from mild to severe, and even if you haven’t been diagnosed with the condition, many of us are familiar with a drop in general motivation levels and mood during winter. If it’s possible, opting to book your holiday during the colder months can offer some light – and sunny – relief.