Winter is well and truly here - the season of snuggling up under the blankets on the couch, and the occasional sniffles and winter blues.

However, the Rotorua community is being encouraged to take measures to stay well and active during these colder months.

Sport Bay of Plenty health team leader Larissa Cuff says as the cold and rain sets in it's only natural to lack the motivation to be outside and active, and instead want to retreat into the warmth and comfort of our homes.

She says fewer daylight hours can also make people feel like there is less time in the day to fit in their usual activities, such as an early morning walk or a trip to the park with the kids after work.

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"As soon as the temperature dips, we may also crave comfort foods that can at times be less nutritious.

"These foods can give us a little happiness kick and provide a form of comfort that helps counter the 'winter blues', but they can also leave us feeling lethargic and less motivated to get moving."

If you're struggling to get active over winter, Larissa encourages you to come up with a plan that involves doing little things often.

"It's normal when it's cold and dark to lack motivation to go out to the gym or for a longer walk or ride, but the important thing is to not beat yourself up about it.

"Instead, plan to do little things that make you feel good and increase your motivation and desire to do more."

She says this can be as simple as borrowing a friend's or neighbour's dog and going for a 10-minute walk, doing some sit-stands or squats during the television ad breaks, or parking a bit further from the shops or work so you can "sneak in" a walk.

"Staying connected with friends and family can also be great for our mood and motivation, so instead of meeting for a sit-down coffee with a friend, why not go for a coffee and a walk, or connect with an existing activity group that can encourage you to leave the house on a regular basis?"

She says having a bit of variety is important so we don't get bored by doing the same thing again and again to the point that it feels like a chore.

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"Try activities that you enjoy, and try a range of activities that will keep you interested and motivated."

Larissa says physical activity can have positive impacts on our mental wellbeing, and help us ride out those cold and dark winter months.

"There's plenty of research these days to show being active improves our mood and decreases anxiety and stress."

She says it is important we don't brush off that feeling of the 'winter blues', but instead find healthy and sustainable ways to counter those feelings.

"If you're feeling down for days at a time, your sleep pattern or appetite has changed and you're really struggling to get motivated and do activities you normally enjoy, then see your doctor."

Sport Bay of Plenty has resources and programmes to help people get active.

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Visit its "Get Involved" directory at www.sportbop.co.nz to find community recreation and sport providers in your local area, or ask your GP or practice nurse about the six-month healthy lifestyle programme for adults called Green Prescription or the free Active Families programme for families with children aged 4.5 to 18 years.

Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health Dr Neil de Wet. Photo / File
Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health Dr Neil de Wet. Photo / File

Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health Dr Neil de Wet says there is usually an increase in influenza-like illnesses and various viral coughs and colds at this time of year.

He says although they are seeing this currently, it seems to be at lower levels than in previous years.

"This may, in part, be due to the recent lockdown measures for Covid-19, but also the ongoing increased community awareness of the importance of hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if unwell."

He says immunisation is the best protection to prevent influenza.

Free influenza immunisation is available for everyone aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, and adults or children with certain long-term or serious medical conditions.

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"Influenza rates have not yet started to increase and so there is still time to get immunised if you haven't already done so.

"Contact your local doctor or health centre to arrange an immunisation appointment."

Neil says as well as getting immunised, people can help protect themselves and others from influenza and other winter viral illnesses by - staying at home if unwell, covering coughs and sneezes, regularly washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Free health advice from a registered nurse is just a phone call away at Healthline on 0800 611 116. For more information go to www.toiteora.govt.nz/influenza.