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How to stay warm when it's freezing

Severe cold can make us sick. What can we do to avoid the seasonal cold, sniffles and flu?   2014-12-08

The temperature has taken a downward spiral and once again we have to make sure we stay healthy and warm. Cold weather can lead to serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, lung illnesses and flu. People slip and fall in the snow or ice, sometimes suffering serious injuries. Older people, very young children, and those with serious medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to the effects of cold weather.

The cold weather is also the cause of more than 25,000 unnecessary deaths during the winter period.

In England the Cold Weather Plan for England (CWP), set up by the government, aims to prevent avoidable harm to health, by alerting people to the negative health effects of cold weather, and enabling them to prepare and respond appropriately.

MyHealthPortal brings you the best advice to remain healthy and warm this winter.

Boost your Immune System

If your immune system is working well your body should be able to fight off any unwanted bugs.

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Be active

There are several theories as to why physical activity lowers the risk of getting ill:

  • Exercise and exertion flush bacteria out from the lungs (thus decreasing the chance of a cold, flu, or other airborne illness) and may flush out cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) by increasing output of wastes, such as urine and sweat.
  • Increasing your heart rate will send antibodies and white blood cells (the body's defense cells) through the body at a quicker rate. As these antibodies or white blood cells circulate more rapidly, they could detect illnesses earlier than they might normally. The increased rate of circulating blood may also trigger the release of hormones that "warn" immune cells of intruding bacteria or viruses.
  • Exercise raises the body temperature and may prevent bacterial growth, allowing the body to fight the infection more effectively. (This is similar to what happens when the body has a fever.)
  • Exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones. Stress increases the chance of illness.

Wash your hands - a lot.

Lots of research has shown that hand to hand and then to face contact has a surprising impact on health. Germs passed on from other people can enter the body through breaks in the skin or through the membranes of the eyes, mouth and nose. Researchers from the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego saw a  45% decrease in respiratory illness from the previous year among 45,000 recruits who had been instructed to wash their hands at least five times a day (soap dispensers were installed and the students were lectured monthly on the importance of hand washing).

Eat Your Veggies

The World Health Organization recommends us eating five 400g portions of fruit and vegetables every day. You should include the following:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower

these all contain chemicals called isothiocyanates(ITCs) which prevent and knockout cancer and have infinite proven immune-boosting capabilities.

  • Cook with garlic; this has the active ingredient allicin which turns into organosulfur. These are the compounds that keep your cells safe from all the destructive cellular processes that can cause major chronic diseases. It is a natural antiseptic as well as preventing cancer, fighting infection, and preventing colds.
  • Tomatoes have high levels of beta carotene, an antioxidant that supports the immune system. They have high dietary fiber and taste delicious raw or cooked.
  • Asparagus has the ability to encourage the body to flush out toxins, due to its natural diuretic abilities. It is both cleansing and anti-inflammatory to the body.

Keep Warm 

  • Dress warmly by layering your clothes to retain your body heat. Best to use clothes made from cotton, wool or fleecy fibres. Most of our body heat is lost through our heads, hands and feet.
  • Keep blankets around you so you can wrap yourself up when reading or watching TV.
  • Keep your living room temperature between around 18-21C (64-70F) and the rest of the house at a minimum of 16C (61F).
  • Avoid going out in bad weather if you can.
  • Keep the heat in using thick curtains and move furniture away from the radiators. 
  • Insulate hot water cylinders and pipes
  • Fit draught proofing around the window and doors

Keep drinking water

The cold causes our blood vessels to contract and the poor circulation may cause pain in our hands and toes. When we are well hydrated our blood flows better which in turn increases our blood oxygen levels. Always warm up your hands and feet gradually and never put them into hot water as this causes small capillaries (blood vessels) to burst or the appearance of chilblains.  

Chilblains – One in ten people suffer from them. These are small often itchy and painful swellings found on toes, fingers and other extremities. They are caused by the cold when the tiny blood vessels under the skin constrict and the blood supply becomes very slow. As the skin becomes warm again the area becomes inflamed and the swelling leads to the chilblains.

Should I consider having a flu vaccination?

Flu is highly contagious and infectious and occurs every year usually in the winter. The symptoms come on very fast and healthy people usually recover within two to seven days. 

The government encourages people at risk to get an annual flu injection. The following people are entitled to the flu vaccine for free - if you are pregnant or over 65 or have:

  • a heart problem
  • a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
  • a kidney disease
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
  • liver disease
  • had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • diabetes
  • a neurological condition, for example multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or learning difficulties
  • a problem with your spleen, for example sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed.

Avoid Crowds

Coughs and sneezing together in a warm environment only increases our chances of catching a cold or flu. If you feel a bit under the weather try to stay away from crowds, wash your hands and use hand sanitizers and keep your hands away from your mouth and nose.  If are generally healthy but do catch a cold or flu stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone and stay away from other people. 

Most of us go through the winter without too much fuss. Look after yourself, eat nutritiously and go out for a walk when you see the sun shining. Before you know the spring will be here and you can start to venture out without your hat and gloves.