Looking after yourself in winter

06 January 2022

If you are feeling the cold a lot more than you used to, you are not alone. Fighting off colds or the flu gets harder as our immune system decline with age, plus a loss of muscle mass means keeping mobile and warm in winter is much more challenging. Add Covid-19 to our list of winter health concerns and it’s more vital than ever that we take better care of ourselves during the winter months.

Our winter health tips look at preventative measures you can take including how to stay warm this winter, overcoming feelings of isolation and boosting your immune system.

1. Keep mobile

As the nights draw in and the weather turns, venturing outside, even to run basic errands, can feel like too much effort. However, keeping mobile, even if you are self-isolating or house-bound, is top priority when it comes to staying healthy in winter.

Research shows that spending too much time sedentary ages you more than anything else. Aside from increased risk of diabetes, heart problems and reduced life expectancy, sitting for too long at a time negatively affects bone health, leaving you more prone to fractures and falls.

  • Don’t sit still for more than an hour at a time
  • Start with what you are comfortable with and build from there
  • Try home-based exercises from a seated position
  • Make exercise part of your daily routine
  • Try yoga or Pilates classes to improve balance and mobility

More advice from the NHS for seniors on keeping active.

Keeping mobile walking

2. Eat and drink well

A wholesome diet is key to preventing health issues in winter, even if you are lacking motivation to prepare healthy meals. And whilst it feels like you just want to curl up with a hot drink all day, you must continue to drink water as keeping hydrated helps ward off illness and other winter health concerns.

Eating healthy in winter
  • Keep a routine such as batch cooking on a Sunday, warm meals at 5pm, and eating porridge for breakfast with a different topping each day.
  • Smaller appetites can benefit from eating little and often to build up hunger
  • Eat a bit of something you like rather than nothing at all
  • Keep cupboards stocked with tins and regularly freeze home cooked leftovers in case of bad weather
  • Add fruit pieces to plain water to encourage water consumption
  • Superfood smoothies are a quick and easy way to get your 5 a day

Follow these NHS nutritious food tips for boosting energy levels.

3. Get vaccinated

A lack of exposure and immunity to seasonal flu viruses because of lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 mean that getting vaccines is more important than ever for staying healthy in winter. You may also wish to stay up to date with coronavirus and the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Free flu jabs are available for the over 50s, carers, those with serious long term health conditions and anyone living in the same household as someone who is immunocompromised. You can book a flu jab with your GP surgery or a pharmacy that offers the service. Find out which pharmacies offer the free flu jab near you.

Over 65s are also entitled to the pneumococcal vaccine which protects against infections that can lead to pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis - all of which are potentially fatal. If you have a long-term health condition such as a serious heart of kidney condition, you are also in need of protection. Find out more about which pneumococcal vaccine you need.

4. Take care of your immune system

Staying healthy in winter for seniors means doing everything you can to boost your immune system and help prevent the spread of disease. Many of the practices we are already familiar with such as washing hands regularly with soap and water and avoiding contact with those who are unwell could be upheld throughout winter.

  • Carry anti-bacterial gel around with you and in the car
  • Use a tissue when you sneeze
  • Make sure there is ventilation when meeting people inside
  • Stock up on cold and sore throat remedies, honey, and lemon
  • Consider supplements if you’re not getting your nutritional needs met
Cold remedies

5. Keep the house warm this winter

Staying warm in the home is crucial for seniors as they lose body heat very quickly, and particularly if suffering from certain conditions, may not even be aware of a rapid temperature drop. The risk of developing hypothermia is very real and can happen anywhere.

Rising costs of energy and gas this year have left many of us worried about how to keep warm in winter. If you are facing difficult choices, you must prioritise heating your home. Under the government's Warm Home Discount scheme, you could save £140 on your electricity bill this winter.

  • Set your thermostat to 20 / 21 degrees Celsius and keep a steady warm temperature all day – blasts in the morning and evenings won’t be enough
  • Invest in a carbon monoxide detector
  • Close the curtains to keep the heat in
  • Turn radiators off in rooms you don’t use and close those doors
  • Use draft excluders against closed doors, or rolled up towels
  • After a quick ventilation in the morning, keep windows closed
  • Dress warmly by wearing layers, a scarf, thick socks and slippers
  • Wear thermal underwear under pyjamas
  • Use blankets, a hot water bottle, heat pads, or an electric blanket

6. Stamp out damp

Signs you have damp include a musty smell, marks on the walls, lifting or peeling wallpaper, walls that are cold to the touch and excessive condensation. Damp conditions in the home are one of the top winter health concerns as it puts you at increased risk of allergies, colds and chest infections.

Good insulation is key, especially if you have cold spots on walls where condensation builds up. The Energy Saving Trust has a comprehensive guide on different types of insulation you might need, as well as the quick wins that could make a big difference. A dehumidifier can also help remove moisture in the air which contributes to a build-up of mould.

  • Find the source of the damp – leaky gutter, pipes, roof – and plug it
  • Use extractor fans in the bathroom to improve ventilation
  • Wipe down windowsills every morning
  • Hang clothes out to dry outside, not inside

7. Look after your mental wellbeing

Winter health tips extend to mental health too. When our mood is low, we are more prone to depression, which can have serious impacts on our physical health too. Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes about during the change of seasons, usually going into winter. It can affect your mood, sleep, appetite and energy levels. Whilst SAD only affects about 2% of the population, a milder 'winter blues' form of it affects many more of us.

Symptoms to be concerned about include persistent low mood, loss of pleasure or interest in normal daily activities, irritability, despair, worthlessness feelings, low self-esteem and feeling tearful. Speak to your GP if this describes how you are feeling. On a positive note, there are many things you can do to stay healthy in winter by looking after your wellbeing

  • Expose yourself to natural light by sitting near a window and getting outside as often as you can
  • De-clutter with an autumn clean-up and feel instantly better, more organised and in control
  • Make your home feel cosy with candles, blankets, big jumpers, favourite hot drinks, and books
  • Practice Hygge – feeling cosy and content – by living in the moment and appreciating the little things
  • Learn a craft that will keep you occupied during the wintry weather

8. Go for regular walks

According to University of Cambridge researchers, a brisk hour-long walk can eliminate the increased risk of early death associated with sitting for more than 8 hours a day. Plus there’s something exhilarating about going out for a stroll on those bright, crisp winter days.

  • Wrap up warm with scarves, hats and lots of layers as temperatures can drop sharply
  • Keep your hands and feet especially warm by using hand and feet warmers
  • Invest in walking boots with a good grip to combat icy pavements
  • Add purpose to your walks such as posting a letter, dropping in on a local friend or visiting the shop

9. Top up your vitamin D

Between October and March is when vitamin D levels are at their lowest, which is why the Department of Health advises that all adults should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement that contains 100% of the recommended nutrient intake during the autumn and winter months. A University of London study confirms that vitamin D protects against acute respiratory infections including cold and flu, as well as boosts bone and muscle health. Currently, 1 in 5 adults in the UK are deficient in vitamin D. 

  • Top up your vitamin D by going outside during daylight hours, taking supplements or getting a mouth spray
  • Add vitamin D into your diet by eating more salmon or tinned tuna

10. Be honest with yourself

It’s important to acknowledge how you are feeling at any point of the year, but especially when social isolation and health issues in winter are getting you down. Part of developing effective coping mechanisms to deal with these winter health concerns is recognising the early warning signs and being prepared.

 

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