Health professionals agree that simple measures such as eating well, staying active and maintaining a positive attitude provide the best chance for people to escape the cooler months relatively unscathed.
When rain sets in and the temperature drops, many people find it harder to get motivated.
WA Health’s acting chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said maintaining an active lifestyle was one of the best ways to stave off winter woes.
“We are very lucky here in that most days, even throughout July and August, there is some sunshine around,” Dr Robertson said.
“And while that certainly contributes to the reduced incidence of seasonal affective disorder, we still do see more people who report feeling lethargic, a bit down and generally less inclined to want to get out and about.”
He said people were less likely to want to get out of bed and there was a lot of temptation to lie around.
But the evidence about the protective mechanisms associated with exercise was compelling and staying active seemed to make people less susceptible to all types of illness, including depression.
“The research shows that a moderate level of regular exercise has many benefits. People who go for a brisk walk on four or so days of the week are 40 per cent less likely to have sick days.”
Dr Robertson said winter was the perfect time to start getting fit because the days were milder.
“It is a nicer time to walk because you can be out and about in relative comfort. People tend to think winter is too cold but in actual fact it is probably more conducive to outdoor exercise than the peak of summer.”
Curtin University psychology expert Peter McEvoy said exercise was a very good antidote to depression.
“Exercise is one of the treatments of choice for depression and in some cases we know it can be as effective as anti-depressant medication,” he said.
HBF community wellness manager Louise Atherton said playing team sport was a great way to exercise during winter because it came with added social benefits which helped people to stay in good spirits.
“If people are involved in a team they are less likely to find excuses for not getting out there because they don’t want to let their team mates down,” she said.
Winter was a great time of the year to explore new activities and Ms Atherton suggested people should use social media to find groups and initiatives in their local area.
“Going online and having a look at what is available is a great way to get motivated and break the ice. Lots of groups have Facebook pages where you can learn more about the activity and get involved in a non-confronting way,” she said.
Have a check up
HBF community wellness manager Louise Atherton said winter was an ideal time to have an overall health review.
“If people are serious about finding ways to deal with feeling moody and lethargic at this time of the year, one of the best places to start is to consult their GP or in some cases, their pharmacist,” she said.
“They will look at your weight and check your body mass index, measure your cholesterol and blood pressure and talk about how you are feeling both physically and mentally and best of all they can give you some points on what you might do to improve the situation.”
HBF community wellness manager Louise Atherton said maintaining a positive attitude was important.
“My main message is not to think about winter in a negative way,” she said. “When you think about it, we are lucky in Perth to have so much sunshine, and even though it rains occasionally there is still plenty of opportunity to get out and about.
“I tell people that they should be doing all the same things they do in summer and the most important thing to do is to avoid the temptation to hibernate.”
She said instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of winter, it was important to look for the positives.
“Harness the unique opportunities that cooler weather brings and instead of dreading winter you will start to look forward to it,” she said.
Staying socially active was also important for a healthy mind and Ms Atherton suggested people should try to think of winter activities they could do with friends, such as visiting winter arts festivals or organising dinner parties.
Many people became complacent about drinking enough fluid during winter, WA Health’s acting chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said.
“People think that because it is colder, they don’t need to drink as much but that is not the case,” he said.
“We really do need to keep well hydrated to allow the normal processes of the body to keep working, particularly given that we are indoors a lot more in heated environments and it is easy to get dehydrated.”
He said skin conditions such as eczema were more common during winter, largely because people were likely to be a bit dehydrated.
“It is important to stay away from sugary drinks and probably it is a good idea to avoid too much coffee but remember that you are not just limited to water and that healthy drinks do count towards fluid intake,” he said.
“We still don’t really understand enough about the processes associated with hydration and why it is so important because it is quite complex, but we do know that the body works best when we drink enough fluid, preferably water.”
WA Health’s acting chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said one of the classic symptoms of seasonal affective disorder was an increased appetite, especially for carbohydrate-dense foods.
He said people were drawn to fatty, sugar-laden comfort foods during the colder months when in fact the best fuel for the body was a varied diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits.
Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said a varied diet rich in seasonal vegetables and fruits was the best for supporting health and happiness.
“I would say that all healthy foods support the function of the immune system. Basically what we need to do is get people to eat a whole range of vegetables, the more the merrier, and a range of different colours and that is the best advice,” she said.
HBF community wellness manager Louise Atherton said planning a weekly menu in advance was a good way to avoid the temptation of making poor food choices on a whim.
“Often in the colder months you don’t fancy a salad and that is understandable but if you put some time into thinking and planning ahead, you can come up with some great appealing healthy meal options that will satisfy cravings,” she said.
Get a good sleep
WA Health’s acting chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said there was evidence to show that people who had plenty of sleep were healthier and happier.
“People tend to sleep less in summer because it is hot and humid and the days are much longer,” he said.
“Winter is a good time to recharge and make sure that we are getting enough rest. Sleeping gives the body a chance to recover and repair. But the key is not to overdo it. Find the right balance.”