Staying healthy in winter

Fiona O’Donnell On… Staying Healthy During Winter

Fiona O’Donnell is a woman on a mission, to encourage us all to stay healthy during winter. Here are the five secrets she thinks we all need to know

Have you ever thought about winter as an opportunity to improve your health? You will if Fiona O’Donnell has her way…. the nutritionist is here to talk about the simple changes we can make to stay healthy during winter.

I love winter. I’m one of the weird ones. Cosy jumpers, wet gear, cosy coffee shops, and hot chocolate all rate very high on my priority scale. But I think winter is a little like childbirth. Once it’s over, you forget about the risk of every flu from avian to elephant. The misery of being damp from October through to March and the depression of being stuck indoors when all you want to do is get out in the fresh air. 

However, I have built a nutrition and lifestyle survival guide for the winter. These tips are a sure way to ensure that pesky virus clears up before you can say ‘office Christmas party’ and the lows of post-Christmas fatigue are a thing of the past. 

Having a strong immune system doesn’t mean never getting sick. It means fighting off the bugs you come into contact with and having a two-day sniffle as opposed to full-blown pneumonia. Here are some of my top nutrition and lifestyle tips to get you through those winter months as well as you can be both in body and in mind. 

Fiona O'Donnell winter
Fiona believes a good mood is half the battle

A balanced diet with lots of variety

Yes, I know it’s boring and it’s not the magic pill we are all looking for, but ensuring a good balance of fruit and vegetables with lots of variety in your diet really is the key to health. Not only will a varied diet ensure you get a large range of vitamins and minerals, but it will also mean that you have a diverse microbiome and diversity is the magic word when it comes to gut health

Protein intake and energy balance

Protein is not just for building muscle. In fact, most of the protein we ingest is used to build cell membranes, DNA & RNA, blood cells and hormones. It is also essential in mounting immune response against infection. With many individuals in Ireland making the move to more plant-based diets, it is essential that the removal of meat and animal products does not negatively impact our protein intake. Being in a negative energy balance can also reduce immune function. Rather than reducing your volume of food, aim for a healthier approach.

Read more: How to live vegan

Vitamin D

Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin d is actually a hormone. It is essential for healthy bone growth throughout your life (especially as you get older) and is involved in the regulation of thyroid hormone and insulin. Vitamin d is integral in the function of the immune system and energy production so it is a good idea to supplement throughout the winter months. 

Vitamin C

The truth is that Vitamin C has been heavily researched in relation to immune function. It will not prevent you from catching anything but it has been shown to reduce the duration of upper respiratory tract infections and other coughs and colds by an average of 1.6 days. That could mean the difference between you making or missing that Christmas party!

Fiona O'Donnell staying healthy during winter
Fiona in her beloved sauna!


In our house, they are known (not so fondly) as the February ‘mads’. When I worked in the health service, I used to go to work when it was dark and come home when it was dark. These are the strategies I used to help prevent that dull depression that used to hit our house once Christmas was over. 

Get out on your lunch break

Wrap up and get outdoors during the day. Anything from 10 minutes upward is a great start. I aim for two hours. 

Spend some time in a sauna

There is emerging evidence to suggest that 10 minutes, three times a week in a sauna may help with mood during the winter months. I’m going to hang on to that thought and book a spa day. 


Endorphins make you feel good and when we exercise, we release loads of them. We also feel good about our bodies, our health, and our achievements. State your intentions and stick to them. Start with even 15 minutes three times a week and build from there. 

Sleep quality and alcohol

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is a stimulant and does not help you sleep better. Frequent alcohol consumption can also result in poor mood and disruption to long term sleep patterns. We can’t (nor do we want to) avoid those Christmas nights out, but aim to focus your efforts on getting good quality sleep and nutrition either side of them. 

Those are my pearls of wisdom as we slide swiftly into the winter months. Wrap up in those cosy knits and keep your plates as colourful as your summer wardrobe. 

Fiona O’Donnell is a nutritionist and works with busy women empowering lifestyle change. With a background working as a cardiac physiologist, her focus has always been on health. In 2017, Fiona underwent a kidney transplant thanks to an altruistic donation from a close friend. Since then, she has slowly returned to competing in triathlon and open water swimming. Fiona has a blog www.westcorkfit.com where she frequently posts recipes and fitness articles.

Read more: 4 easy health hacks to get back on track