How To Look After Your Health In Winter

Winter is upon us and temperatures are dropping, so if you haven't prepared already, then now is the time to be thinking about what to do in the event of severe weather.

We all know that snow and freezing temperatures can cause major disruption, but this can be minimised with a little preparation before the weather hits.

There are many different issues to consider in winter such as health and wellbeing, protecting home and property, travel, and community.

The internet is bursting with information and helpful advice on how to be prepared for winter and there are many different organisations offering guidance online. Websites from the Met Office to the Red Cross all cover a wide variety of winter-related topics from getting a flu jab to ensuring you have enough de-icer.

Below are ten tips with advice on how to stay fit and healthy during the winter months.

Get a flu jab. Flu is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus. It spreads rapidly through small droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. Some people are at greater risk of developing serious complications of flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The flu jab is free if you are aged 65 or over, pregnant, have certain medical conditions, live in a residential or nursing home, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person. If you don’t meet any of these criteria you can get a flu jab for around £10 in most pharmacies and supermarkets. Studies have shown that the most widely used flu vaccine, trivalent inactivated vaccine (TIV), prevented seasonal flu in 59% of adults aged 18-65. No vaccine is 100% effective but the current flu vaccine will provide the best defence against the symptoms of seasonal flu and in turn help slow the spread of the virus.

Tracmaster How-To Guides | Staying healthy in winterKeep your home warm. The Government recommends that you keep your main living room at around 21°C (70°F) and the rest of your house at 18°C (64°F). If you are unable to heat the whole house all day then heat the living room during the day and your bedroom just before you go to sleep. It can be more economical to keep your boiler on constantly at as low an output temperature as possible to maintain warmth, rather than on a high temperature for short periods. Have your gas appliances checked by a Gas Safe Registered (formerly CORGI) engineer, and ensure your home is well ventilated. NEVER use a gas cooker or oven to heat your home, it is inefficient and there is a risk of potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. If you use LPG, oil or solid fuel, make sure you have a good enough supply to see you through the winter. It’s a good idea to ensure you have an alternative method of heating your home, just in case your main source fails. Keep warmth in by draft-proofing gaps in windows and doors and insulating lofts, walls and water pipes. Draw your curtains at dusk to help keep in heat generated inside your rooms and make sure heaters and radiators aren’t obstructed by furniture or curtains.

Eat well. Food is a vital source of energy, which helps to keep your body warm so have regular hot drinks and eat at least one hot meal a day and try to keep active while you’re indoors. According to the NHS you are 80% more likely to get a cold in winter so it’s important to keep your immune system in tip-top condition. Milk and dairy products are great sources of protein and vitamins A and B12, as well as being a significant source of calcium, and fresh fruits including oranges, strawberries and blackcurrants and leafy green vegetables are packed with vitamin C.

Tracmaster How-To Guides | Staying healthy in winterGet outdoors. It may be the last thing you want to do in the cold, but your body needs sunlight to create vitamin D which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Even on a cloudy day the sun on your skin will help your body create vitamin D. You can top up your levels with oily fish and dairy products. Getting outdoors and walking is also a great way of exercising – your body burns more calories in the colder weather so any activity is more effective. If you are outdoors, wrap up warm. Wearing lots of thin layers is best, ideally cotton, wool or fleecy fibres, and make sure you are wearing shoes that provide a good grip. If you have heart or respiratory problems stay indoors during cold periods.

Get enough daylight. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is caused by the shorter daylight hours resulting in darker mornings and evenings and affects around 20% of the population. For around 2% it is a seriously debilitating illness. Light therapy has been shown to be a very effective treatment in up to 85% of diagnosed cases. Replace your standard lightbulbs with daylight bulbs or invest in a SAD lightbox. If symptoms persist consult your GP.

Check your medicine cabinet. Stock up on painkillers, decongestants, throat sprays and cough mixtures, and don’t forget liquid paracetamol for children. If you require regular prescription medicines make sure you have enough spare in case you are unable to get out. If your cabinet is already well-stocked, don’t forget to check the use by dates – out of date medicines may not be as effective and so it’s best to dispose of them, this can be done at your local pharmacy.

Tracmaster How-To Guides | Staying healthy in winterRemember good hygiene. Norovirus or winter vomiting bug is particularly prevalent during the winter and is highly contagious, causing vomiting and diarrhoea. It swept the UK in the 2012/2013 winter, closing hundreds of hospital wards and infecting well over one million people. Flu is another virus that increases during the winter but the risks of contracting this can be reduced with a flu vaccination. However something as simple as good hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of many viruses. Remember to wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and before preparing food. Use an anti-bacterial hand rinse, similar to that used in hospitals.

Learn a few simple first aid steps. Trips and falls can increase in icy weather so it’s useful to know how to deal with strains and sprains or broken bones. There are a number of accredited first aid providers and useful education resources available including St John Ambulance and The Red Cross amongst others.

Check the weather forecast regularly. Forewarned is forearmed so if you know what’s coming it’s easier to deal with. The Met Office is a great resource and they provide forecasts for up to 30 days in advance.

Remember your neighbours. Look after yourself and remember to check on vulnerable neighbours or relatives to make sure they are safe, warm and well.

Hopefully you've found this guide useful. There's plenty more information available online, so if you've got questions then a simple internet search should help. However, for serious health questions, ring your GP or out-of-hours service (dial 111), or in a real emergency dial 999.


Useful Links & Downloads:

GOV.UK - Keep Warm, Keep Well Leaflet

GOV.UK - Top Tips For Keeping Warm And Well (with Age UK and PHE)

NHS - Find A Pharmacy

Met Office - Weather Warnings & Advice


Disclaimer: This article is intended as general guidance only, is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health practitioner with any questions regarding a medical condition. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company.