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How not to get ill this winter

There are many tried and tested ways of reducing the chances of getting ill this winter. However, new research has shown that whether or not we get sick may be in fact blamed on the weather!   2015-11-09

Why do we get ill in winter?

Over the past 30 years scientists have been trying to understand why we tend to get ill in the winter. 

The New England Journal of Medicine in the late 1970s wrote that the common cold is not linked to cold exposure. This appears to be substantiated by the practice of cold water swimming which is common in Scandinavia and Russia. Participants claim it makes them feel great. Using cold temperatures for medical purposes has been used in Japan to treat pain and inflammation from rheumatic and other conditions.

Scientific opinion has now changed and new research indicates that bad weather can make us ill.  To date, the scientific community has been unable to establish exactly how cold weather leads to the “sniffles”, runny nose and a sore throat, all miserable signs of a cold. Recently a team of scientists from Yale announced their discovery that lower temperatures weaken the nose’s first line of immune defenses. They found that in lower temperatures, the immune cells of the body were more sluggish and therefore open to infection. 

Previously, scientists thought the association between winter and colds might be more behavioural than biological, people crowding together leading to the transmission of the virus. More research is necessary.

Improve you immune system

If you would like to avoid getting sick this winter try to strengthen your immune system. A healthy diet, including a few proven immune-boosting foods, is one of the best ways to avoid catching the flu. The best flu-fighting foods are fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables – brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are packed with healthy phytonutrients that can strengthen your immune system, lowering your susceptibility to the flu virus.

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  • It can be very tempting to fill up on stodgy comfort foods when it’s dark and cold outside but you should ensure that you are still having your “five-a-day”.
  • Add zinc to your diet and have garlic too. These are known to help fight colds and fight colds by boosting a flagging immune system. Good food sources include meat, oysters, eggs, seafood, tofu, black- eyed peas and wheat germ.
  • Drink plenty- Flush out any toxins in your body to improve your overall health.
  • Have plenty of sleep - Lack of sleep makes us more prone to infection.
  • Keep on moving – Not only will this improve our overall health it will increase the levels of lymphocytes (cells that attack the germs) in the bloodstream. Lead researcher Professor David Nieman from Appalachian State University in the US reported that in his study, participants who went for a brisk walk several times a week reduced the number of sick days they took by about 40%.

Simple ways of keeping the bugs away

Another way of keeping the bugs away is to keep warm to avoid shivering. Our immune system gets depressed when we shiver making us more vulnerable to catching any bugs that are going around. Wear a hat – up to 30% of body heat is loss through our heads and wash your hands – germs can be transmitted by physical contact and enter the body through our eyes, mouth and noses.

Getting ill in the winter is not inevitable but good sense and a healthy lifestyle may make you more able to cope with germs and viruses. Avoid crowds especially where there is little ventilation such as in a crowded train, bus or in the tube. If you do go down with a bug however, remember that good hygiene will avoid you passing it on.