Winter health tips

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Winter health tips

Winter health tips

The nights are drawing in and people bunged up with colds. Exercise levels drop and we reach for comforting snacks and drinks - all of which can take a toll on our wellbeing.

We look at how you can keep your mind and body in tip-top condition during the colder months.

Boost your immunity

Winter is the prime time for coughs and colds, so make sure you eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and fruit that is packed with vitamin C. You may be tempted to reach for the multivitamins, but numerous studies have found that supplements don't have the same benefits as natural foods.

Get outdoors

Going outside may be the last thing you want to do when the weather's miserable, but your body needs sunlight to create vitamin D that's essential for healthy bones and teeth. Your body can create vitamin D from the action of the sun on your skin, even on a cloudy day. Top up your vitamin D levels with cod-liver oil, milk, dairy products and oily fish such as sardines, salmon and fresh tuna.

Watch your appetite

The shorter days of autumn and winter affect our internal body clock that tells us when we feel tired, when we wake up and when we feel hungry. Scientists have found that lack of daylight causes an increase in appetite, so make sure you indulge those cravings with healthier foods.

Give your medicine cabinet a health check

Coughs and colds are more common in the winter months, so stock up your medicine chest ready for this season's sniffs and snivels. Painkillers, decongestants and cough mixtures are good for adults and don't forget liquid paracetamol for children.

Out of date medicines may not be effective. So check the use-by dates on your medicines and take old products back to your pharmacy for disposal.

Sore throats

A sore throat often marks the start of a cold and usually lasts two to four days. Remedies include antiseptic lozenges that make you produce large amounts of saliva to soothe the throat. Gargling with soluble aspirin or an antiseptic like TCP or salt can help. Sore throats are contagious so don't share mugs and cutlery with anyone else.

Drinks at work

You may not fancy water in the colder weather, but watch those warming cappuccinos don't cause your weight to creep up. The average cappuccino has 120 calories and 6g fat, while a latte, because of its higher milk content, has 200 calories and 10g fat.

Switch to skinny versions and you'll save between 50 and 70 calories, while fat content drops to almost zero. Herbal teas are also a good alternative. And try to take your tea and coffee without sugar - or with less sugar if you must!

Make the most of staying indoors

Driving rain can make it easy to feel cooped up, so create a relaxing atmosphere with incense, candles or essential oils. Now is the perfect time to read that book or spend time with your family playing board games. Winter is also the perfect time for being lazy socially and inviting friends around for dinner rather than going out.


Around 100 different viruses can cause the symptoms of sore throat, runny nose, headache and cough. Colds are more common in winter because viruses spread more easily indoors.

Remedies usually include a combination of painkiller and decongestant. Antihistamines can dry up mucus in the nose and throat. Try to cough or sneeze into a tissue to stop the virus from spreading.

Revel in the dark nights

Bright sunshine and balmy weather are wonderful - but not when you're trying to get to sleep. For those of us not blessed with air-conditioning, cooler, darker nights make it easier to sleep and stay snoozing.


A cough is a reflex action to clear excess mucus in the throat. We all produce about 100ml mucus every day, but we normally swallow it unnoticed.

For a chesty cough use an expectorant to loosen phlegm and make it easier to cough up. For dry, tickly coughs use a suppressant to reduce the cough reflex. Mixtures like lemon and honey also coat and soothe your throat

Watch your mood

Lack of sunshine and daylight can have a profound effect on our emotions. For some people, this causes low mood, irritability and lack of energy during autumn and winter.

Winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder as it's known, affects women more than men. Symptoms include a lack of interest in socialising, daytime sleepiness, a craving for starchy foods and an increased need for sleep.

It can be treated with bright light therapy - a very strong lamp that bathes you in artificial light. Exercise is another good way to boost mood because it releases your body's natural feel-good hormones. If you can't seem to shake the winter blues, talk to your doctor.

Headaches and pain

Paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin are the most common painkillers. Paracetamol is gentler on the stomach so more suitable for hangovers, while aspirin and ibuprofen reduce swelling so are better for fever, aching muscles and joints. Don't give aspirin to children under 16 years.

Be productive

Dark nights are a great time to sift through clutter, while the short days are perfect for odd jobs like painting a door. The more you do now, the more free time you'll have in summer to get out and about - or for even bigger projects!

Stay active

Dry, sunny days are perfect for walking. And the cold weather means your body burns more calories just to keep warm, making activity more effective.

Gyms and leisure centres are great for fitness in the winter months. Try something new like pilates or yoga: pilates strengthens your core muscles, while yoga promotes flexibility. Both will complement activities like running, cycling and golf.

Whatever your activity, don't forget to spend the first five minutes warming up - your muscles will be tighter than in the summer months, making them more prone to injury.

Watch your step

No matter how late you are for that meeting or bus, take a little extra care on pavements and platforms in the colder months. Rain, wet leaves and freezing temperatures equal slippery surfaces that increase your risk of a fall. Every year thousand of sprains and fractures are caused this way. Shoes or trainers with a decent grip will help.

Take care of your skin

Wind, rain and central heating can play havoc with your skin, leaving it dry and flaky. But before you slap on the moisturiser, make sure you exfoliate first to get rid of all those dead skin cells. UV rays can still penetrate the skin on cloudy days, so stick to a moisturiser with an SPF 15 to avoid wrinkles.