As darker days increase, your mood and energy levels can dip. This is the best time to give your immune system a boost before the cold and flu season hits

Butternut squash

Butternut squash is packed with antioxidants © iStock

Butternut squash & sweet potatoes

Their vibrant orange colour is packed with immune-boosting beta-carotene – the brighter the pigment, the more antioxidants you’re also getting for cardiovascular health.

‘Both are tasty roasted or made into a soup with coconut milk, chilli and ginger,’ says Helen Ford, of the Dr Marilyn Glenville Clinic.

Mushrooms 

Try to include a variety of types, such as shiitake, oyster, chestnut and flat mushrooms.

‘There’s been a lot of research with “medicinal” mushrooms (such as Reishi mushrooms) and their anti-cancer properties, but all types of mushroom are rich in selenium, for thyroid and immune function, and vitamin D, for immune support and bone health,’ says Helen.

‘Eat them raw in salads or lightly sautéed with coconut oil and fresh herbs.’

Apples

Apples are a fruit that’s naturally low in sugar, making them a good choice for keeping blood-sugar levels stable.

‘They contain fibre and pectin, which support healthy cholesterol, and they’re rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of developing cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease,’ says Helen.

‘Eat them raw, grate on to your porridge or stew with cinnamon and raisins for a delicious dessert.’

Pomegranates

Pomegranates have been hailed a superfood, with anti-cancer benefits, due to their high antioxidant levels.

‘They’re also very low in natural fruit sugar and supportive of healthy blood flow, which is useful for promoting good cardiovascular function,’ says Helen.

‘Eat the juicy seeds as a snack on their own or sprinkle them over porridge or salad.’

Dates

Dates are particularly rich in magnesium, which relaxes the blood vessels to help stabilise
blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

‘The downside is that dates contain a lot of sugar, but if you mix them with some nuts and seeds you’ll slow down the sugar rush,’ says Helen.

‘Try making healthy sweets out of dates blended in a food processor with coconut oil and raw cocoa, and then shaped into little balls.’

Do more

Leaf raking

It’s the perfect form of exercise, hidden within a task, says Nicola Addison, of Eqvvs Personal Training.

‘For reluctant exercisers, the fact that you’re keeping active without really knowing it
is a major bonus. Raking requires a whole range of movements – twisting, bending, lifting and reaching, and these use several different muscle groups.

‘And if you don’t have leaves to sweep, then trimming a hedge or washing your car is just as good. The key is to stay as active as you can, and as often as you can.

‘That means ideally walking (or the equivalent) for a minimum of 30 minutes daily and then adding other everyday activities, like these, on top.’

Yoga

Even if you’re a lifelong couch potato, you can easily take up yoga. Choose a class that’s suited to beginners, if that’s what you are, and tell your teacher you’re a novice.

There are modifications for every pose, so you shouldn’t overstretch and damage yourself.

The main benefits of yoga are stress relief and that comes from the combination of stretches and deep, controlled breath work.

‘Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness, and increases body awareness – it’s a great way to get in tune with your body and start loving yourself from the inside,’ says Nicola.

Pilates

Another calming exercise technique, Pilates particularly focuses on balance and core stability –preventing back pain and improving posture.

‘Better posture enables improved breathing and circulation, too, and this has a positive impact on the immune system,’ says Nicola.

By also improving your balance with certain exercises, such as standing on your toes to pretend you’re reaching for a shelf, you improve your strength and mobility for all daily activities and keep your body looking and feeling young.

Leaf raking in autumn

Wondering how raking leaves is an autumn health benefit? It’s exercise hidden in a task © iStock

T’ai chi

T’ai chi is slow and gentle and won’t get you out of breath – yet it still helps with muscle strength, flexibility and balance.

A Stanford University study found that three t’ai chi classes a week, for 12 weeks, improved both lower and upper body strength and flexibility, with participants more able to rise quickly from a chair or do arm curls as a result.

You’ll also improve your balance and reduce falls, according to some studies. Other research has shown t’ai chi can help slow down arthritis and reduce arthritic pain, and maintain bone density after menopause, and lower the risk of heart disease.

It even improves the balance, walking ability and overall wellbeing of people who are suffering from mild to moderately severe Parkinson’s disease.

Health hotspot

Autumn weather is a typical trigger for migraines, and cluster headaches (a severe headache where pain is limited to one side of the head) are also more common at this time of year because of changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure.

If you suffer from either, talk to your GP.

Stay well

Dose up on vitamin D

As the sun dips, you’re naturally going to get much less vitamin D, and this matters because there’s been an exponential rise in deficiency in Northern Europe (largely due to the fact that we all spend so much time indoors).

Having enough vitamin D in your body is linked to a reduced risk of everything from diabetes and heart disease to breast and bowel cancer.

‘But we can only get a relatively small amount of this important vitamin from our diet (from egg yolk and oily fish), so we have to rely on sunshine and supplements,’ says Helen.

‘Latest research shows a link between vitamin D and mental health. It’s thought that the vitamin acts on the areas of your brain that are linked to depression – possibly by boosting or stabilising levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is needed for a balanced mood.’

Try: Super Strength Vitamin D3, £10.95 for an eight-month supply from healthspan.co.uk

Discover rhodiola

Ideal for this time of year when your mood and energy levels may be on the wane, rhodiola is classed as an ‘adaptogen’, meaning it has a balancing effect on the body and helps to combat stress caused by the pressures of modern day living.

‘It’s been shown to help boost energy and improve memory and it may also act like a herbal  antidepressant,’ says Helen.

‘There are different species of the herb, and the best one is rhodiola rosea, as this is the kind that has stress-busting properties.’

Try: Schwabe Pharma Vitano Rhodiola Tablets, £13.95 for 30 one-a-day from health stores

Apply pressure

Try acupuncture to banish autumn blues. ‘In Chinese Medicine, we recognise that our mood can be affected by our systems becoming unbalanced,’ says acupuncturist Rhiannon Griffiths.

‘Acupuncture uses ultra-fine needles to access internal energy. A point I often use is called Heart 7, and you can activate it yourself. Follow your little finger down to the wrist, where you’ll feel a round bone at the corner of your palm called the pisiform.

‘Massage it when you’re feeling low or anxious, and you should be able to calm your mind.’

Reformer Pilates

Reformer Pilates will help improve your posture © iStock