After a long, hot summer, winter has arrived, and with it comes a slew of flu bugs, common colds, seasonal depression and even stress. This time of year can be a headache for those who fall victim to the winter woes, but there are things you can do to stave off getting run down this year. We’ve asked TV’s Dr Hilary Jones, resident GP on Good Morning Britain and Lorraine, for the top five things he recommends everyone does to winter-proof health. Follow his guide and you’ll be fighting fit all winter long!
1. Keep clean
Colds are rife and are picked up by the virus getting from one person to the next. This can be simply by someone coughing or sneezing in your face, but germs can also be spread via hand contact. For example, someone with a cold puts the virus on to their hands (while sneezing, coughing or using a tissue, for example) and then transfers the virus to a surface (such as a table, a keyboard or an escalator handrail), which is then picked up by someone else who touches their eyes or nose – and the transfer is complete. Once you have a cold, there is not much you can do to get rid of it – antibiotics don’t work on viruses, so prevention is always best.
The simplest thing to do to avoid a cold is to wash your hands when you get home or arrive at the office. Keep some hand sanitiser on you if you can’t get to a basin and ensure you don’t rub your eyes or nose when travelling. It may help to wear gloves on public transport, which will stop you being tempted to rub your eyes and may also protect your hands. If you spot someone who is obviously ill near you, turn away from them and protect yourself with a scarf over your face. Maintaining a healthy immune system will also help fight off any viruses – so, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep and don’t smoke. It’s important to get a flu vaccine if you’re 65 years or older, pregnant or vulnerable because of another illness.
2. Drink up…
A glass of water is often the last thing on anyone’s mind during the party season with all of the festive cocktails around. People get more irritable when they’re dehydrated, so stay calm by keeping the water flowing. Did you know that women should drink two litres of water a day (roughly three and a half pints)? Most of this comes from the fluids you drink, and the rest comes from food. During the festive season, many people suffer from hangovers, which are most commonly caused by dehydration. This affects a chemical in your body called vasopressin, which helps your kidneys conserve water and prevents it from being removed from your body when you urinate. This mechanism helps keep the balance of fluid in your body just right. Alcohol, however, stops vasopressin from doing its job, meaning that more urine is produced, making you need to go to the toilet more often and causing dehydration.
Drink lots of water and eat healthy foods such as watermelon, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage and celery, which contain lots of fluid. Cooked pastas, rice, beans and salmon are also good to prevent dehydration. For every alcoholic drink you have, balance it out with one glass of water.
3. …But avoid temptation
Did you know that the average British person consumes 6,000 calories on Christmas day? This is three times the average daily amount recommended for women. And let’s not forget the calories that come from alcohol. Not only does it dehydrate, but alcohol is also a depressant – and it lowers your sleep quality. Its weekly recommendation is 14 units a week, which equates to seven 175ml glasses of wine or seven pints of lager, so don’t be afraid to say no to that extra glass of mulled wine.
There are some easy ways to eat healthily over the holidays. Choose antioxidant-rich dark chocolate over super sweet liqueurs. Seek vitamin-rich foods such as sweet potato, spinach and broccoli to keep your energy levels up. Limit your alcohol intake – remember that every unit of alcohol you consume takes your body around one hour to digest, so be mindful of how fast and how much you’re drinking.
4. Keep moving
A shocking survey by the British Heart Foundation revealed that British people spend an average of 178 hours sitting down over the festive period – make sure you’re not one of them by staying active this Christmas. Make time for movement. Try not to stress out too much over fitting in every dinner or party invitation, or the seasonal strain on your finances – you don’t have to say yes to everything. Enjoy the holidays by spending time doing what you want to do rather than constantly catering to the needs of others.
Something as simple as a daily walk has been shown to improve your health. A study by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress found that just 15 minutes of brisk walking each day can add up to seven years to your life! Start your daily walks before the Christmas season commences Alternatively, if you want to stay indoors and avoid the cold weather, get in some exercise by playing games like football with family members.
5. And relax!
High pressure events like Christmas highlight that people often handle stress inefficiently, with flared tempers, emotional meltdowns and feelings of not being able to cope. The only way to manage it successfully is to integrate stress-busting changes on a daily basis, and one way of doing this is through meditation. The first thing that can create an immediate effect is to breathe, something that may rarely get your attention. Breathing controls the exchange of vital oxygen and excretion of waste carbon dioxide from the blood. When you’re stressed, your breathing instantly becomes shallow and impairs the body’s vital functions. Meditation provides the chance to focus entirely on your breathing, and is widely recognised for its stress and health benefits.
Take a moment in a quiet space where you won’t be distracted. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and focus on your breathing, acknowledging the warm breath as it leaves your body through your nostrils and then feel the cool air as it comes in and fills your lungs. Gradually allow your entire body to relax, note any tension held in your muscles and let that go, subsiding any negative thoughts that come into your head. If you take only 15 minutes a day out of your hectic Christmas routine to find this space, you should see a difference in your ability to cope with stress.
Dr Hilary is an ambassador for Hidden Hearing. If you notice you’re having trouble hearing, get it checked by booking in for a free hearing test at your local Hidden Hearing branch by visiting the website hiddenhearing.co.uk