Six Tips For A Healthy Winter by Alison Runham

The shorter, darker, colder, wetter days of winter can leave even the fittest and chirpiest people feeling run-down. To feel better through the winter:

Reduce infection risk

While being cold cannot give you a cold or the flu (only viruses can do that), it can stress your body and lower your immunity. Practise good hygiene and take antibacterial hand gel out with you.

If you’re recommended to have a flu vaccine or are eligible for a free one, get it early, before flu season starts. Rest assured it can’t give you flu, as it contains no live viruses. People who get flu after vaccination may have a rarer flu strain not covered by the vaccine or a strain contracted before it became fully active.

Keep exercising

Exercise can warm you up, boost your immune system and release endorphins that make you feel good. If you’re exercising outdoors, bundle up, avoid exercising when it’s icy and wear bright, reflective clothes if it’s dark. Consider indoor alternatives: swimming, indoor climbing, exercise classes, short-term gym passes, exercise DVDs or buying your own exercise bike or weights.

Check out www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise and click on ‘fitness guides’ for free ten-minute workouts, or www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio for online exercise videos, including yoga, Pilates, strength exercises, aerobic workouts and more.

Get enough daylight, fresh air and vitamin D

Your body uses sunlight to regulate your body clock and create vitamin D, essential for strong teeth, muscles and bones, so don’t hibernate! However, in the UK, there’s not enough sunlight between October and early March to make sufficient vitamin D, nor can you get enough by eating vitamin D-rich foods, so the NHS recommends a daily 10mcg vitamin D supplement.

Stay warm

When the temperature drops below 8°C, those who are over 65, disabled or pregnant, or have children under school age, or have a mental or long-term health condition are more vulnerable to illness. Low temperatures increase vulnerability to heart attacks, stroke, flu, pneumonia, hypothermia, falls and injuries, and can worsen depression, dementia and Raynaud’s Disease (which interrupts blood supply to the extremities, causing pain, numbness, stiffness or tingling, most commonly in the fingers). Keep your home heated to at least 18°C and use hot water bottles, heat packs or electric blankets if necessary. Try a hot bath before bed and have hot meals and drinks. Pre-warm clothes on radiators or in your airing cupboard. When outdoors, wear warm gloves and a hat, and use hand dryers for a warmth top-up while you’re out.

Eat healthy comfort food

Choose healthy comfort foods like stews and soups (but watch your fat and salt intake and include plenty of vegetables). Homemade soups are easily made with a simple blender, and cooked fruit with low-fat custard makes a great winter pudding. Visit www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well and click on recipes to find healthy, warming dishes.

Finally… look after your mental health

Stay active, warm and sociable: exercise, time spent outdoors and the company of others can all help stave off winter blues. However, if you think you may have full-blown SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), see your GP for help.

www.alison.runham.co.uk