10 healthy habits to help you stay well this winter
How can you boost your immunity this winter?
If you want to stay well in winter, it’s all about keeping warm, eating nutritious foods, keeping up to date with your vaccinations and making sure you’re sleeping well.
Winter can be tough on our bodies, so don’t make it tougher for yourself! Keep reading for more winter health tips to help you tackle the colder months.
1. Keep warm
Cold weather can affect your body’s ability to fight off infections. If you’re not very mobile, are over 65, or have a health condition such as heart or lung disease, the NHS recommends you should heat your home to at least 18°C or over.
Even if you’re under 65, healthy and active, you should try to keep warm even if it doesn’t seem cold enough to put the heating on just yet. You can do this by keeping your windows closed overnight, using a hot water bottle or an electric blanket (not at the same time!), eating warm meals and having hot drinks regularly.
If cost of living concerns are affecting your ability to keep your home warm this winter, you may be eligible for help with government schemes such as the Winter Fuel Payment and the Cold Weather Payment.
If you’re concerned about an elderly neighbour, call Age UK’s advice line for free on 0800 678 1602, or contact your local Age UK.
2. Get your vaccinations
Winter is that dreaded time of year when cold and flu viruses start spreading. If you want to avoid any nasty illnesses this year, keeping up to date with your flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster vaccinations might just do the trick.
This is especially important if you’re over 50, have a long-term health condition, are pregnant, are in long-stay residential care, receive a carer’s allowance, or if you live with someone who has a weakened immune system. In these cases, you won’t have to pay for your flu vaccine.
Even if you aren’t eligible for a free flu jab, it’s still a good idea to get vaccinated anyway. You’ll usually be able to pay for your flu vaccine at your local pharmacy.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet is important all year round, but if you want to avoid catching the office cold this winter, getting as many nutrients as you can through your diet is a great place to start.
Make sure you’re getting your 5-a-day, along with healthy sources of protein and fibre. If you need some pointers, our healthy eating tips can help you to keep a balanced diet.
Eating seasonally is a great way to stay healthy, and there’s no better time to try it than wintertime. Tasty winter veggies you can add into your diet include swede, parsnips, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage, cauliflower and many more! Why not try cooking up a hearty winter vegetable soup to keep you nourished and warm?
Exercising might be the last thing you want to do in the cold weather, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your health! According to the NHS, people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many long-term conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some types of cancer.
The NHS recommends that we should all get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This includes anything that gets your heart rate going, whether it’s a brisk walk, jogging, dancing, playing sports or cycling, if it gets you moving you’re on the right track.
You may find that the colder weather might cause you to stiffen up a bit. Regularly stretching your body with pilates or yoga poses might help you to stay loose throughout winter!
5. Stop germs from spreading
If the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of preventing the spread of germs. Even if a virus isn’t affecting you too badly, someone more vulnerable could end up seriously ill if they catch an infection from you.
Always wash your hands regularly, especially after using the bathroom and before eating or handling food. Make sure to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and don’t share personal items like makeup or towels.
If you’re not feeling well, it’s best to stay at home if you can and keep your distance from others. If you have no choice but to go out, consider wearing a face mask to protect vulnerable people around you.
6. Take your vitamins
Boosting your immune system often starts with your diet, but vitamin supplements are often needed too.
The NHS recommends that all adults in the UK should be taking a 10-microgram vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter. This is because we get vitamin D from sunlight, and we simply don’t get enough of it during the darker months! Over time, this can lead to a vitamin D deficiency.
If you’re looking to fight off winter viruses like the common cold, stock up on vitamin C and zinc to keep your immune system functioning at its very best! You can do this by eating a nutritious diet full of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, or by taking a supplement.
Dehydration might be an issue you’d associate with hot weather, but you certainly shouldn’t disregard it in the colder months! In fact, dehydration may be even more likely in the winter because we aren’t usually as thirsty and may simply forget to drink enough water.
Signs of dehydration include dark-coloured urine, thirst, sweating or urinating less frequently, fatigue, dry mouth, dry skin, headaches and sugar cravings.
Make sure to always carry a bottle of water with you and monitor your water intake to ensure you’re getting enough (the NHS recommends 6 to 8 glasses per day). You can also stay hydrated by eating plenty of water-rich fruits and vegetables like apples, cucumber and lettuce.
8. Sleep well
If the winter weather is making you feel tired and sluggish, start at the source by taking a look at your sleeping habits.
In theory, the cooler weather should make it easier to fall asleep, as the optimal temperature for falling asleep is around 18°C (colder than the average room temperature). Just make sure your heating isn’t on too high and avoid keeping windows open when it’s cold outside.
If you’re regularly not getting the recommended 7-9 hours per night, you’ll not only feel unwell and tired during the day, but you’ll be at a greater risk of health complications like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
9. Stock up on food, just in case
In winter, bad weather conditions like heavy snow or ice could leave you stuck at home for a few days, especially if you live in a rural area. Catching a virus could also leave you homebound for a while, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re well-prepared.
Stock up on tinned foods like soups and stews, as well as frozen fruits and vegetables for quick and easy nutrition when you need it. You could also keep some bread in the freezer and meals you’ve pre-prepared yourself.
All that said, don’t panic buy when there’s news of a storm coming! Build up your emergency supply gradually over time rather than all at once so others aren’t left without.
10. Know when to see a doctor
Having a cold or even the flu doesn’t usually require medical attention, but you should be aware of these signs that indicate you may need to see a doctor:
- You have a persistent high temperature (fever) that lasts more than 3 days
- You’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks
- You’re feeling short of breath or develop chest pain
- You feel very unwell
- You’re losing weight for no reason
- You have swollen glands (the side of your neck feels swollen)
- You have a weakened immune system (if you’re having chemotherapy, for example)
If you feel you need medical advice, call NHS 111. If you’re experiencing any emergency symptoms like severe chest pain, call 999.