Even though this article is “inspired” by the first sneezes in the office – No need to panic! We’ve just reached mid of September and the past week here in Stockholm has been more than promising that we can look forward a lovely Indian summer. Still having the pictures of this year’s vacation literally burnt into our minds the least we want to think about is to take out our (beloved) winter coat and snugly warm boots. Yes, Swedish winter can be loooong and dark (hearing the sighs from my climate buddies) but for not sinking into self-pity here let’s embrace autumn for the beautiful season it is!
I have to say I really love this time of the year. Everyone is coming back from vacation and share their summer stories at the office. The leaves of the trees will soon show themselves in shades of yellow and red giving the city a new look. From constantly being outdoors social life is going to return to under the roof again. Change is in the air. However, with this change there are challenges that we want to prepare ourselves to. I’m not only talking unpredictable weather and increasing darkness (brrrr)… It’s this time of the year we need to take special care of our immune system and mood. Here are some things you may want to consider as you get into the autumn vibes:
Make the most of your sunshine hours.
You want to be really greedy. This thursday has already got 40 mins less daylight to offer than just one week ago – speaking in Stockholm terms. And what am I going to talk about now? Correct: Vitamin D. Strongly linked to our bone health it has also shown to affect the function of the immune and nervous system – and by this our affinity to the common cold and depressive mood. To begin with, our body is its own producer of this substance. However, in the process of making vitamin D there is one essential: UVB radiation from sunlight needs to strike our skin – and here things come full circle. Especially in the Northern latitudes between autumn and late spring UVB exposure approaches zero, which means that our own vitamin D production will come to a stop. The good news is: Vitamin D is storable and we can even take it in with our diet. Main sources are fatty fish, egg yolk, and fortified products (such as milk or often also soy milk), and certain types of mushrooms. So to give your immune system a last boost and keep your vitamin D factory busy – go outside! 15 mins lunch break walk can make a difference as long as there is UVB to catch. Personally, I don’t supplement vitamin D for prevention of deficiency, however, it is certainly not harmful to keep track of your vitamin D levels when you are lucky to live in one of the darker corners in Europe.
Get back to the gym.
What happened actually after everyone got prepared for “Beach 2016”? Well, beach happened (I know that’s not particularly smart to figure out) but what I want to say: After a rather disciplined period most of us probably got back to normal. La Playa. Tapas. Cerveza(s)… [can be further extended]. And you know what: Fair enough. Summer is here to enjoy. And to the ones of you who managed to stay away from all temptations: Hats off! Anyways, while we want to get back into shape it might help to emphasize other benefits of catching up with our workout, may I introduce: Serotonin, endorphine and dopamine. They are all neurotransmitters, messenger substances in our brain that stimulate the “feel good” and help us regulate appetite and sleep. Low levels or imbalance of these transmitters can even be associated with depression. Among factors such as genetics, chronical diseases, sunlight and diet, exercise affects the release and synthesis of these super chemicals – the extent of the beneficial effects obviously depend on the intensity and frequency of exercise. General recommendations on how often to work out vary with regard to the outcome being addressed. However, most evidence on a general healthy and sustainable frequency of exercise could be obtained at 3 x 30 mins per week (here I mean you need to work up a sweat) and additionally a minimum of 30 mins physical activity every day (moderate intensity, like walking to the bus stop). Sounds like a lot? Well, it might be a challenge to come from a frequency of 0 to 3 times at once but believe me, as soon as you get to feel the dopamine, you’ll make your gym session a priority.
Welcome sleep. Avoid stress.
Eventually, to sum up the purpose of this article, I would like to encourage you to set routines and priorities when arriving in autumn. Back at the office work loads are crushing after a long summer, which combined with changing weather conditions is putting your body under immense stress. Some might have a higher tolerance level than others, but in the end stress causes chemical reactions which may not be visible immediately but under constant exposure are likely to show effects in the long run. Sleep is another essential pillar supporting your health, its importance gets particularly clear when you experience frequent sleep loss. Sleep does regulate the circadian rhythm, our inner “master clock” which influences the release and production of our entire hormone balance, impacting the entire range of functions in our body. Vice versa, sleep quality is affected by the day-night-rhythm and stress. Critical factors particularly at this time of the year. And by saying this, take good care of yourself and bare in mind that the things that often get the least attention might be key to keep your autumn cold-free and develop your individual routines – a strategy – to make this winter a blast.