During the winter months with shorter days, longer nights and damp wet weather it is important to keep our immune systems working by looking after ourselves as low cloud, dull and misty conditions tend to bring an increase in germs . We need to avoid getting run down as at this time of year we are all more prone to catching colds and flu. It is really important that those with a weaker immune system and the elderly, as well as those working in the public health sector get a flu jab every year. Find out if you need a flu vaccination here.
In this article we suggest 10 ways that you can help yourself to stay healthy through the Winter.
1) Keep warm
Why? Shivering depresses the immune system and makes us more likely to catch colds.
If you are over 65 or not very mobile then you should try to heat your home to at least 18C, keep your bedroom at 18c through the night and keep bedroom windows shut.
For extra warmth at night you can use a hot water bottle or an electric blanket – but not both at the same time.
Eating regularly helps keep you warm so aim to have at least one hot meal a day.
Drinking regular hot drinks will also help. In cold weather, wear a hat when outdoors as 30% of your body heat can be lost through your head.
2) Wash hands regularly
Why? Although most infections are carried in the air (when someone coughs or sneezes) germs can also be transmitted by physical contact – washing hands often can significantly reduce the chances of catching a virus.
Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria to stop them spreading to other people and objects, which can spread illnesses such as food poisoning, flu or diarrhoea.
3) Don’t touch your face
Why? Your nose, mouth and eyes are the most common places for germs to get into your body, so it’s best to avoid touching your face at all at least not until you’ve washed your hands.
4) Get plenty of sleep
While more sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, skimping on it could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you susceptible to a bad cold or case of the flu.
The recommended amount of sleep is seven to eight hours and getting enough sleep will help keep your immune system in fighting shape. Catch up on missed sleep with a couple of naps (no longer than 30mins) throughout the day, perhaps 20 mins on your lunch hour and another before dinner.
5) Avoid crowds if you can
Why? Crowds breed germs so avoiding crowds as much as possible will help reduce your chances of catching a bug.
Crowded trains and buses with little ventilation, department stores bustling with shoppers, and people gathering for parties all make catching a cold more likely.
6) Drink plenty of Water
Why? Drink about eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy is recommended as water helps the kidneys function properly and flushes out the toxins that accumulate in our bodies.
If you have a cold, being dehydrated makes your mucus drier and thicker and less able to cope against invading bacteria and viruses. If you’ve already caught a cold, drinking plenty of fluids will help flush out the infection.
We all suffer from colds at some time but recent research indicates that a person’s level of physical activity influences their risk of respiratory tract infections such as a cold, most likely by affecting immune function. Moderate levels of regular exercise seem to reduce our susceptibility to illness compared with an inactive lifestyle but long hard bouts of exercise and periods of intensified training put athletes at increased risk of colds and flu.
The recommended weekly goal for exercise is 150 minutes. Despite exercise being the last thing you probably want to do on a dark winters evening you may be surprised at how energetic you feel after being physically active.
8) Let in some sunlight
Why? The lack of sunlight through the winter means your sleep and waking cycles may become disrupted & also means your brain produces more of a hormone called meatonin, which makes you sleepy. Lack of sunlight can also lead to a Vitamin D deficiency.
Try to open your curtains as early as you can to let in as much natural daylight as possible. Get outdoors and go for a walk at lunchtime to get some fresh air.
9) Eat foods containing Vitamin D
Why? A study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) may protect against respiratory infections – the common cold is the most widespread respiratory tract infection.
While foods containing vitamin D aren’t plentiful, there are some options you can try. Consuming vitamin D rich foods like canned salmon, milk, tuna, and mushrooms will help. Vitamin D enriched foods such as soy, yogurt, cereal, orange juice, and eggs are easy to work into your diet as well.
10) Try to smile once in a while.
Why?…. because new research has found that happiness may help you fight off cold and flu germs. Carl Charnetski, MD, professor of psychology at Wilkes University, found that sex, positive thinking, playing with a pet, and other pleasurable behaviours boost your immune system—making it harder for viruses to stick.
Word from our GP
“Some good preventative advise here to try and help you stay well through the winter.”
Dr Edwards – New Surgery Pencoed