With the first of the really cold winter weather expected to hit today, NHS England is urging over-65s to keep warm and stay well this winter.
It has joined forces with Public Health England to launch a campaign called ‘Stay Well This Winter’. The key advice of the campaign is to seek advice from a pharmacist at the first sign of a winter illness, rather than letting it develop into something more serious. Pharmacists are highly trained medical professionals who can dispense a variety of over-the-counter medicines to effectively treat less serious ailments, or advise you to see your GP if necessary.
There is a raft of information on the Stay Well This Winter website, including a dedicated section for over-65s. It advises that: “The cold and damp weather – ice, snow and cold winds – can be bad for your health, especially if you're aged 65 or older. It can make you more vulnerable to winter illnesses, such as coughs and colds, which could become very serious. It also increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.”
However, the website goes on to list a range of things you can do to combat the cold and make sure you stay well this winter. One of the keys to maintaining good health through the winter months is to make sure you stay warm, both inside the house and when you have to venture outdoors.
The advice is to wear several layers of light clothes, rather than one bulky layer. Warm air is trapped between the layers of clothing, helping you to keep warm. If you’re going out, wear shoes with a good grip to prevent slips and falls. Only go out if absolutely necessary when the weather is at its worst.
Staying as active as you can around the home will also help, although ‘a little and often’ is better than overdoing it. Even moderate exercise can bring health benefits and it’s best not to sit still for more than an hour or so. If you intend to start an exercise regime, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP first.
You should also try to keep your home heated to at least 18c (65F), by keeping doors and windows closed and eliminating drafts where possible. Heating your home can be expensive, but there is help available through various financial schemes and by making your home more energy-efficient. More advice on this is available in the Government’s “Keep Warm Keep Well” booklet, which you can read by clicking here.
One of the warmest places in your home is your bed, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about spending more time in it during the winter! Jessica Alexander is spokeswoman for The Sleep Council, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of a good night’s sleep for general good health and wellbeing.
She said: “On average we sleep six-and-a-half hours a night, much less than the seven to nine hours recommended. But in winter, we naturally sleep more because of the longer nights. It's perfectly natural to adopt hibernating habits when the weather turns cold. Use the time to catch up."
Making sure you eat properly is also crucial to staying well. Food is a vital source of energy which helps to keep your body warm. Try to make sure that you have hot meals and drinks throughout the day. A warm bowlful of porridge is an excellent way to start a winter’s day. Porridge oats boost your intake of starchy foods and fibre, give you energy, help you feel fuller for longer and contain lots of essential vitamins and minerals.
Finally, make sure you’ve had your flu jab. It is available free on the NHS to all over-65s and a range of others with underlying health conditions or in at-risk groups. If you think you should have a flu jab and haven’t had it yet, contact your GP surgery. Even if you don’t qualify for a free flu jab, many pharmacies offer it for a small fee, usually around £10.
According to official government figures, there were 27% more deaths during the winter months of 2014/15 than for the rest of the year, most of them among the 75+ age group. Many of those could have been avoided by taking the right measures to keep warm and stay well. In particular, it is vital to seek advice from a pharmacist at the first sign of a winter illness. Don’t delay thinking it will go away – it’s just not worth the risk.