Simple steps for staying warm and well during winter

Simple steps for staying warm and well during winter

Spells of sometimes bitterly cold weather are common during the winter months (1). The cold can be harmful to our health, even on moderately cold days (1). Long nights and freezing weather can aggravate existing conditions, raise the risk of increased blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, and can even lead to hypothermia or depression.

While anyone can be affected by cold temperatures, those most at risk of cold-related illness include older adults (1). After all, as we age, our bodies find it harder to keep us warm, and our immune systems don’t work as well as they once did (2). But there are some simple steps we can take to prepare so we can keep ourselves warm and well during the winter months.

Keeping warm during winter

After the age of 55, we lose around 1% of our muscle each year. It’s not surprising we feel colder; it’s that muscle that helps keep us warm (2). Follow these tips (2)(3)(4) to keep warm while it’s cold outside:

  • Layer up when you go out in the cold. Thin layers will trap the warm air between them.
  • Always wear a hat. You lose most of your body heat through your head.
  • Wool, leather or synthetic gloves are best for keeping your hands warm. And keep a waterproof pair close at hand in case your other gloves get wet.
  • Pull your sleeves down to stop the cold air getting in between your gloves and your clothing.
  • Wrap your scarf around your face to warm up the cold air before breathing it in.
  • Wear woolly socks or socks containing insulating material and waterproof shoes.
  • Always wear socks, slippers or shoes around the house. Try wiggling your fingers and toes to stimulate blood flow if they feel cold.
  • Put a blanket or shawl around you and keep your feet up on a stool when you’re sat.
  • But try not to sit still for more than an hour. Get up and stretch, even just your arms and legs.
  • Warm your living room to 21°C and your bedroom to 18°C. Ask a qualified professional to check your heating system.
  • Draw the curtains at dusk and keep doors shut to block out draughts. Keep bedroom windows closed.
  • Use a hot-water bottle, wheat bag or an electric blanket to warm your bed, but never a hot-water bottle and an electric blanket together. If your feet get cold at night, wear socks to bed.

Keeping well during winter

Colds, flu and pneumonia are all more common in winter, but our immune systems find it harder to fight off nasty illnesses as we age, and we tend to be on more medications than when we were younger. Follow these tips (2)(4)(5)(6) on keeping well during the cold months:

  • When the weather is really bad, it’s best to stay indoors, especially if you have a heart or respiratory problem. Keep your spirits up by calling a friend or taking up a new hobby.
  • Make sure you have enough of your medication if there’s a cold snap, so you don’t have to worry about going out.
  • When the weather is a bit milder, go outside and get some fresh air – but make sure you wrap up warm.
  • Keep your hands and face warm to avoid your blood pressure rising and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
  • Think about using mobility aids to help you get out and about if you’re having trouble moving around.
  • Include a good range of foods in your diet, with five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Get the jab to help boost your immune system, even if you're fit and healthy. And wash your hands regularly to help stop any germs spreading.

It’s a good idea for everyone to take extra steps to look after our health during the winter months, but this is particularly important as we get older. Changes to our bodies mean cold weather and winter bugs can affect us more than they used to. How will you be keeping yourself warm and well this winter?


References
(1) http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/Climate-change/news/news/2018/2/who-warns-stay-alert-and-help-vulnerable-as-cold-grips-europe
(2) https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/keep-well-this-winter/stay-healthy-in-winter/
(3) https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/keep-well-this-winter/stay-healthy-in-winter/how-to-keep-your-hands-and-feet-warm/
(4) http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/winterhealth/Pages/KeepWarmKeepWell.aspx
(5) https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/warnings-and-advice/seasonal-advice/health-wellbeing/stay-well-in-winter
(6) https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/warnings-and-advice/seasonal-advice/health-wellbeing/winter-health-advice-for-over-55s

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