From what to eat to what to do, we'll help you be your best this season
Asparagus is an impressive source of the B-complex vitamins needed to produce energy and maintain the nervous system, explains Joanna Blythman, author of What To Eat (£9.99, Fourth Estate).
‘They also regulate homocysteine levels in our blood – a strong risk factor for heart disease.
Asparagus also provides vitamin K – essential for strong bones.
‘Look out for tight green tips and stalks that are moist and sappy within – asparagus with a woody, puckered, bendy stalk is past its prime.
‘Traditionally matched with hollandaise sauce, enjoy it instead with a drizzle of olive oil and a few shavings of Parmesan. Use the lower part of the stalks in soup, pasta or risotto.’
Spinach is a great meat-free source of iron, important for keeping us alert, explains Dr Sally Norton, health expert, NHS weight-loss consultant and founder of vavistalife.com.
‘It’s also high in vitamin C – which aids iron absorption – and calcium,’ she says. ‘Toss spinach leaves into Bolognese sauces, scrambled egg and salads.’
Gooseberries are full of essential vitamins, including folate, thiamin and vitamins A and C, says Emer Delaney, of the British Dietetic Association (bda.uk.com).
The gooseberry season starts with green gooseberries which, according to eattheseasons.co.uk, are the best ones for cooking. Poach them with a little sugar and water for a traditional side to mackerel. Later in the season come the dessert gooseberries (often red, yellow or golden) that are sweet enough to eat raw – try in fruit salads.
Although officially a vegetable, rhubarb is treated as a fruit. Maincrop rhubarb arrives in spring and has deep red stalks, tinged with green.
Contrary to popular opinion, it can be eaten raw – it’s the leaves that are poisonous – but is too tart to be enjoyable so should be cooked with plenty of sugar.
It goes well with vanilla – custard, ice cream or yogurt– and with ginger and cinnamon in a classic crumble. New research has found that rhubarb contains cancer-killing chemicals.
And baking the plant for 20 minutes – like in a crumble orpie – dramatically increases concentration.
Watercress is packed full of iron and folic acid, says Emer Delaney. It’s also
rich in vitamin C and calcium, and contains anti-cancer phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene and flavonoids.
Look for crisp leaves with a deep green colour. Raw watercress adds a peppery taste to salads and juices, and makesa classic soup ingredient.
‘But try steaming it to keep as many nutrients as possible,’ adds Emer.
The fabulous flavour of Jersey Royal new potatoesarises from the unique growing conditions on the island, according to eattheseasons.co.uk.
The early season potatoes are smaller and more tender, thelater season ones larger and
more flavourful, and both taste delicious.
‘They’re a great source of fibre and vitamin C, especially the skins,’ explains Emer Delaney. ‘Vitamin C is important for our skin and hair, so leave the skins on – just give them a wash.’
Steam or boil until tender, then add butter and mint, chives or parsley.
Now’s a great time to spring-clean your health, says natural health expert Janey Lee Grace (imperfectlynatural.com). ‘Have one day a week when you avoid all processed foods, alcohol, tea or coffee and try to ‘add in’ something nutritious.’
‘For instance, start the day with a ‘Shrek-green’ smoothie: Juice an apple, a chunk of celery, cucumber, fresh ginger, a handful of kale or cabbage, half a lemon or lime and blend with half an avocado or banana. Voila! A powerful punch of antioxidants guaranteed to put a spring in your step.’
Decluttering and spring-cleaning will also impact on your wellbeing, adds Janey. ‘But use natural non-toxic kitchen cupboard ingredients (such as lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda), which won’t contribute to allergies, particularly if you’re prone to hay fever.’
Cycling is a great low- impact activity that really works the leg muscles without stressing the joints, explains Speedflex trainer Julie Kroon (speed flex.com).
And it’s the perfect way to get out and about. ‘All too often we get caught up in the routine and responsibilities of daily life, and forgetto really pay attention toour surroundings,’ says Melody Coleman, personal trainer and swim coach (bodyprojectpt.com).
‘Most of us have some stunning greenery within just a couple of miles of our homes – and even a leisurely ride around a city can leave us fresh-faced and exhilarated.
If you don’t own a bicycle,cycle-hire schemes arean inexpensive and easy option, such as London’s user-friendly Santander Cycles, which cost as little as £2 to hire.
A scenic walk at a brisk pace utilises major muscle groups and burns calories, explains Julie Kroon. And spending time outdoors will also relax and invigorate you.
‘If you fancy a bit more of a challenge, hillwalking, Nordic walking, rambling and hiking have been shown to strengthen bones, lower high blood pressure, improve cardiovascular function, and aid digestion,’ says Melody Coleman.
Look out for walking groups advertised locally, orteam up with a friend.
Outdoor boot camps are a great way to keep fit, especially if you don’t like the gym, says Garry Kerr, head of operations and training at British Military Fitness (britishmilitary fitness.com).
‘Working out in groups is more motivational than going it alone and, despitethe scary image, they are suitable for anyone.
As every session is completely different, there’s no chance of getting bored. In addition, physical activity outdoors burns up to 30% more calories than doing the same indoors – all while enjoying the scenery around you.’
BMF runs sessions in over 140 parks across the UK, led by highly trained former and serving members of the Armed Forces. And your first session is free.
Gardening is a particularly rewarding outdoor activity as it not only boosts strength and fitness, but you get to see the results of your hard work, says Melody Coleman. Just make sure you keep
your back straight and bend your knees.
‘Think about your movements– incorporate squats and lunges to increase the intensity and overall benefits. And try setting yourself a target, such as how fast can you mow the lawn.’
If you don’t havea garden or allotment to cultivate, consider helping an elderly friend or relative
Get into the habit of switching off your phone after work or, at the very least, your emails. The daily bombardment of information from texts, emails and social media takesup neural resources and causes ‘decision fatigue,’ says neuroscientist Daniel Levitin in his book, The Organized Mind (£6.99, Dutton Books).
Instead, he recommends checking emails just two or three times a day, rather than as they come in. Just spotting an email mid-task is enough to reduce your IQ by 10 points as your mind wanders from the job at hand.
Consider Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a vitamin-like antioxidant that is vital for energy production cells, explains Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and nutritional advisor for Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk). It’s often referred to as the ‘biochemical sparkplug’ due to its essential role in the production of energy.
But the amount you produce decreases from the age of 20, and the amount you absorb from your diet also reduces with age, and in those on statin drugs. Studies also show it can reduce high blood pressure, protect against heart disease and enhance the immune system.
Try Healthspan’s CoQ10 concentrations – from £16.95 for a two-month supply at healthspan.co.uk.
Have a massage
It calms the mind, helping anxiety and depression, explains Maxine Stead, managing director of Alexandra House Holistic Health and Well-being Spa (alexandrahouse.org.uk).
‘It also lowers heart and breathing rates and reduces blood pressure. Aromatherapy massage uses different essential oils to either relax or stimulate the mind and body, and is perfect if you are feeling stressed or anxious.
‘In hot-stone massage, heated volcanic stones are used for a deeply warming and therapeutic massage if you have aches and pains, or tension related to stress. Indian head massage focuses on the upper back, shoulders, neck and scalp, and works on pressurepoints to rebalance energy flows.
‘And Swedish body massage relieves tension held in the muscles, relaxing the whole body.’