Get prepared when it comes to your health this winter with our advice for looking after both body and mind, as Claire Muffett-Reece explains
The nights are drawing in and the temperature’s dropping. It can mean only one thing – winter’s on its way. While for some the thought of nights curled up on the couch is all too appealing, for others it causes a host of issues, from the worry over rising energy bills to a lack of social interaction with the outside world leading to loneliness and a decline in mental health. Then there are the physical complications the colder months bring with it. As we age our immune systems become weaker, meaning it’s harder to fight off viruses; not to mention the hazards the outside world poses – think icy conditions leading to slips and falls, and freezing temperatures putting a strain on your lungs and overall health. It’s therefore essential you’re prepared for all situations, to ensure both body and mind aren’t negatively affected by the season. It’s all in the planning…
Energy prices are shocking, but with some alarming statistics showing that back in December 2022 over 1,000 people died due to cold homes, it’s now more important than ever to think of how you can best stay warm this winter. For a start, get your boiler serviced regularly – yes, it may mean you have to fork out a lump sum first off, but in the long run it’ll save you money thanks to it working more efficiently. The same applies to your radiators, bleeding them to make sure no air’s become trapped; thereby maximising their performance. Speaking of radiators, you should also make sure they’re not blocked by any furniture, making your room easy to heat, and remember to keep curtains open by day to let in light (and potential warmth); only closing when the sun sets. Then there are the many other ways you can keep warm during the winter months, from extra layers of clothing to hand warmers, electric blankets and hot water bottles.
You are what you eat
When it’s freezing outside the last thing you want to eat is a salad, but on the other hand you also need to be careful you aren’t filling up with stodgy comfort food that does more harm than good. Reaching for your phone for a takeaway or popping convenience food in the oven may seem like a good idea during winter, however it’s far from beneficial for your health, with one study revealing some takeaway pizzas contain up to three times the recommended daily intake of salt; known to be a major cause of elevated blood pressure. Instead, now’s the time to stockpile your freezer with your own healthy versions of your favourite comfort foods, with Bolognese, chilli con carne and cottage pie all made with five per cent fat beef mince, buying the cheaper frozen variety to make your budget stretch a little further. You can also make some hearty soups and stews created using reduced priced finds from your local supermarket at the end of the day. Because we all love a yellow stickered bargain!
I like to move it
Sure, it’s cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you should reach for the TV remote and a blanket, before seeing out the next few weeks slumped on the sofa. In fact, there are many health benefits for exercising during winter, with it being proven to boost your immunity, elevate your mood, improve your heart’s health and more. Braving the plummeting temperature still putting you off? Exercise inside instead – the last thing anyone wants is to slip or trip outside and cause unnecessary injuries. You only have to turn on the internet and type ‘indoor exercises’ on your search engine for over 62 million results to ping up, from workouts on well-known video sharing websites to stretching, walking from room to room or even sitting down exercises if you can’t stand for too long. Just be sure to speak to your local pharmacy before taking on any new exercise routine – even if it’s indoors – to be sure you’re fit and healthy enough to do so.
Around 34% of adults who cut back on heating their home during winter say it negatively affects their health or well-being (ONS)
Don’t worry, be happy
It’s dark when you wake up, and it’s dark before you’ve even started making dinner; meaning it’s understandable that for many those shorter daylight hours can have an impact on your mood and lethargy. What’s more, a lack of sunlight means you’re most likely not getting the right amount of vitamin D; which can also contribute to a low mood, so it’s important you head down to your local pharmacy for advice on any vitamins or supplements you need to keep your physical and mental health in the best possible state. Your local pharmacist should also be able to advise other ways to elevate your mood during the winter months, from simple solutions such as being as active as possibly during daylight hours, to nutritional advice and more. You should also be sure to have a strong network of friends and family to stay in regular contact with – and, if you don’t, again ask your independent pharmacy for charities or local support groups to prevent you from feeling isolated. Finally, be sure to keep your mind active with a hobby or task you can enjoy at home. Buy the books you’ve been meaning to order; do a jigsaw, knit or take up some crafting – you can even download some free mind game apps for your tablet to keep yourself busy.
Another essential tip for looking after yourself throughout the winter is to stock up on medication, should you get struck down by any of those nasty bugs that rear their ugly heads as the weather takes a turn for the worse. If you’re aged 65 or above – or have a certain long-term health condition – you’re most likely eligible for a free flu jab – and it might also be wise to check whether you need another Covid booster. Now’s the time to visit your local pharmacy for pain relief tablets such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, as well as antihistamines to relieve runny noses and other essentials such as tissues and a thermometer. Your pharmacist is also qualified to offer advice on a range of minor illnesses, such as coughs, colds, sore throats, tummy trouble and aches and pains, so chat to them before automatically calling your GP for an appointment if feeling under the weather. And don’t forget about always checking you have enough of any prescription medication you take on a regular basis.