Every winter, we are greeted with headlines about how the NHS is inundated over the festive period. No one really wants to spend the holidays in their GP surgery when they could be tucking into mince pies and watching The Sound of Music for the hundredth time. Luckily, there are a few health steps and precautions you can take to stay illness-free this winter:
Sunshine in a bottle
Vitamin D is important to keep our bones and muscles healthy and is primarily made by a reaction in our skin to sunlight. However during the winter months (October-March) in the UK, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation to make vitamin D and we must rely on getting it from food and supplements. Foods that contain vitamin D include oily fish, red meat and eggs, but as only a small amount of vitamin D is found in these products, it is recommended that everyone consider supplements over winter, with the aim for an intake of 10mcg a day.
It is estimated that two million people in the UK suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as ‘winter depression’. The symptoms which include low mood, irritability and fatigue tend to reach their peak between December and February. In order to improve the symptoms of the winter blues, I suggest walking for one hour a day, especially at midday and on brighter days, and sitting near windows when possible, or in front of a light box for two hours a day.
Stay well this winter
It is also worth considering painting your home in pale, reflective colours which may help brighten up your environment. Furthermore, studies have shown that staying warm can reduce your SAD symptoms, so wear plenty of layers, gloves and scarves, drink hot drinks, and aim to keep your home at a temperature between 18-21C. If you are still struggling with your mood despite these efforts then do see your GP as you may need to consider psychological therapies – or, in some cases, medication.
If you are sick of catching every virus incubating in your commuter train carriage, the best way to avoid getting ill is to wash your hands regularly, as 80% of infectious diseases are spread by touch.
Whilst most of us will gladly dip our hands under the taps, to have an effective wash, you must spend 45 seconds at the sink with soap, ensuring to interlock your fingers, rub the backs and palms of your hands and even your thumbs.
If you feel like you’re about to come down with the lurgy, be proactive and take zinc supplements. Studies show that zinc can speed up your recovery from a cold and reduce the severity of your symptoms if taken within 24 hours of them starting. You may also consider giving yourself a health boost by upping your vitamin C intake, ensuring you’re eating as many fruit and vegetables as possible – tis the season for Brussel sprouts!
Moderating your drinking
Winter tends to be a time for excess, but we Brits often take it a bit too far when it comes to Christmas office parties – or that extra glass of warming whiskey in front of the TV on the cold and dreary evenings.
We are well aware that alcohol can have damaging effects on many of our organs, leading to liver disease and increase the risks of heart disease as well as a number of cancers, but alcohol misuse can also weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections over these winter months. If you are not drinking within the recommended limits of 14 units a week, perhaps consider choosing a drink with less alcohol content or even trying to cut back altogether in order to protect yourself this winter.
On average 8,000 people die of flu in the UK each year. Despite this shocking statistic, most people ignore their invite to get the flu jab as they are worried it will make them sick. This however is a myth. As there is no active virus in the jab, it can’t give you the flu – and you are most likely just to end up with a slightly sore arm!
So if you have been offered a flu jab by your GP, jump at the opportunity to help protect yourself and your loved ones.