Winter wellness: During the colder months we're more susceptible to infection

Looking after ourselves is the best way to get the most out of the season ahead. Here’s our guide to protecting your wellbeing during the winter lockdown and beyond

After a spring/summer lockdown filled with long walks, gardening and cycle rides, it can feel like a challenge to stay healthy at home in winter. But during the colder months, when we’re more susceptible to infection, it’s more important than ever that we protect our wellbeing.

Winter wellness: During the colder months we're more susceptible to infection

Winter wellness: During the colder months we’re more susceptible to infection

‘Cold and flu viruses survive better in colder, drier weather,’ says Dr Kate Bunyan, Chief Medical Officer at Doctor Care Anywhere. ‘Now that we have Covid-19 to contend with, we all have to work a bit harder to stay well.’

The good news is, there are lots of ways to keep healthy – even when it’s wet and windy – from useful apps to kicking bad habits. It doesn’t have to be a major change, but the benefits can start immediately. So, what are you waiting for?

VITAMIN BOOST

During the summer months, our major source of vitamin D is from sunshine, although at this time of year, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation for us to produce it. Supplementation is the best option between November and early March for keeping our bones and muscles healthy.

Dr Bunyan explains: ‘Vitamin D is also really important to keep our immune system working well. This winter, getting the right intake is especially important, as many of us have been indoors more than usual during the spring and summer.’

Vitamin D is available at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Just 10mg a day is all you need, and that’s the same for the whole family.

It's important to get outdoors, but you may need a Vitamin D supplement in the winter as well

It’s important to get outdoors, but you may need a Vitamin D supplement in the winter as well

THREE SOURCES OF VITAMIN D FROM FOOD

1. Oily fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel)

2. Mushrooms

3. Egg yolks

GETTING ACTIVE

When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, how much physical activity is enough?

'Huge benefits': Dr Ross Perry says adults should get some kind of exercise every day

‘Huge benefits’: Dr Ross Perry says adults should get some kind of exercise every day

‘Adults should aim to get some kind of exercise every day,’ says Dr Ross Perry, GP and medical director of Cosmedics.

‘That could be 75 minutes of vigorous activity across the week or 150 minutes of moderate activity.’

With gyms closed across England, we’re all looking for alternative ways to get active, whether it’s walking apps like Active 10 or squeezing in an online class such as yoga or Pilates. But we don’t have to do it alone – involving the family is a great way to bond and improve motivation.

Dr Perry adds: ‘There are huge mental and physical benefits from exercising together. Doing something you all enjoy, like a family bike ride, will increase endorphins, burn off excess energy and work the major muscle groups.

‘It’s also a great way to build lifelong healthy habits, which help connect physical activity with fun, family and community.’ 

Friday night disco! Turn your house into a nightclub and dance around together for half an hour

Friday night disco! Turn your house into a nightclub and dance around together for half an hour

THREE FAMILY EXERCISE IDEAS

1. Friday night disco

With the lights down and music turned up, have fun dancing around the front room together for around 30 minutes.

2. Mini assault course

If you’re missing family days out, build your own assault course in the back garden to keep them active and entertained.

3. Ball Games

Mix up your weekly activity by introducing different types of ball games that can be played in the local park or within a safe place at home.

HEALTHY HABITS

'You don't have to give up completely': Dr Petra Simic says you should aim for fewer than 14 units of alcohol per week

‘You don’t have to give up completely’: Dr Petra Simic says you should aim for fewer than 14 units of alcohol per week

Spending more time indoors can exacerbate bad habits, such as snacking on unhealthy foods, smoking or excessive drinking. 

During the spring lockdown, almost a third of us admitted that we were consuming more alcohol than usual*, which can affect our weight, sleep and mental health.

‘You don’t have to give up drinking completely to feel the benefits,’ says Dr Petra Simic, clinical director for Bupa Health Clinics. 

‘Instead, aim to drink fewer than 14 units a week – that’s roughly six pints or a bottle and half of wine. Wherever possible, spread these units over a few days to reduce the strain on your health and how you feel day-to-day.’

THREE TIPS TO CUT BACK

1. Let loved ones know you’re cutting down so you can socialise in ways that don’t involve drink.

2. Switch to smaller wine glasses or from full pints, to halves to train yourself to slow your pace.

3. Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks – soon you may not notice the difference.

A range of apps and quizzes to help with getting healthier can be found at nhs.uk/better-health/

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Dr Kate Bunyan says keeping weight off can reduce your risk of some health problems

Dr Kate Bunyan says keeping weight off can reduce your risk of some health problems

Now that it’s cold outside, we’re likely to be more sedentary than we were in the first lockdown, during which 48 per cent of us said we gained weight*. If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight can reduce your risk of some potentially serious health problems**.

Dr Kate Bunyan says: ‘Keeping weight off can help reduce your risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, back pain and some cancers.’

One way to lose weight steadily and effectively is with the NHS Weight Loss Plan. Using the free app, follow a 12-week diet and exercise plan to help develop healthier eating habits, be more active and start losing weight.

‘While slow weight loss is much more sustainable,’ adds Dr Bunyan, ‘quickly you’ll feel more energetic and find moving easier. Getting outdoors is one great way to get those steps up initially – even if we have to stay local for now.’

THREE GREAT ENGLISH WALKS

1. Mineral Tramway Trail, Cornwall: From Portreath to Devoran, this 11-mile route across the peninsula and through Cornwall’s mining heartland is perfect for coast-to-coast hiking or cycling.

2. Jubilee Greenway, London: Take advantage of the capital at its quietest with a walking tour of the city’s famous landmarks, from Kensington Palace to Shakespeare’s Globe.

3. Blickling Lake Walk, Norwich: Enjoy a family-friendly, dog-friendly, low-energy walk through the National Trust’s Blickling Estate, which remains open to the public during lockdown for booked visits.

EXERCISE TIPS FOR ANY LEVEL

Feeling uninspired by exercise? Take a few top tips from Manchester personal trainer Sam McGowan (@samsays_pt) to help you get fitter and stronger in lockdown. samsays.co.uk

• Do something you love, often. The key to improving health and fitness is consistency, so it doesn’t make sense to do things we don’t like. If you love dancing, try Zumba. If you like the outdoors, get cycling. Or try HIIT sessions for short, sharp bursts of energy.

• Fun, achievable and totally free, the Couch to 5K app is a great programme designed for those who want to introduce running into their workouts. It’s an ideal way to build up fitness gradually, whatever level you start at, making it easy to invite your household to join in.

Get your steps in: Taking the dog for a walk counts, so find the lead and get out there!

Get your steps in: Taking the dog for a walk counts, so find the lead and get out there!

• It sounds simple but get your steps in. Walking is the most underrated activity for staying active and it’s something that is both easy and accessible. Each week, focus on increasing your daily step count average, starting with around 5km per day. An ideal target would be 10km, but aiming for any increase is a great way to start.

For more tips on how to get started, visit nhs.uk/better-health/get-active/

STRATEGIES TO STOP SMOKING

Smoking is one of the most common coping mechanisms in times of increased stress, but it can have a dramatic effect on our health. Even though quitting isn’t easy, the benefits can start from day one. Here, Dr Petra Simic shares her tips on how to stop.

Distractions

Identify times in your life when you lean towards cigarettes, such as stress or work pressures. Distract yourself in these situations by taking a walk or making a cup of tea to keep the the cravings at bay.

Location, location, location

Cravings can start when you are reminded of smoking. Avoid places where you go to smoke and remove paraphernalia like ashtrays from your house. Once these associations fade, smoking will become a thing of the past.

Think of the savings

Why not save the money you would have spent on cigarettes and treat yourself to something special? Not only will you feel physically better for cutting it out, you will be rewarded emotionally.

Ask for help

Talk to a health professional about how to stop smoking. They’ll be able to give you practical tips and support along the way to help you achieve your goal.

For more free support to help you quit, visit nhs.uk/better-health/quit-smoking/

It doesn't have to be hard to get out there and start getting fit, and there are apps to help

It doesn’t have to be hard to get out there and start getting fit, and there are apps to help

GET YOUR FLU JAB

Vaccination offers the best protection against seasonal influenza (flu), an unpredictable but recurring virus we face every winter. The flu vaccine is recommended for:

• Those aged 65 and over

• Pregnant women

• Those with long-term health conditions, such as chronic respiratory or cardiac disease

• Those who are immunosuppressed

• Main carers of an older or disabled person

• A child aged two to 11 years old on August 31, 2020

• Household contacts of someone on the Covid-19 shielded patients list

Visit gov.uk/government/collections/annual-flu-programme

This is UK Government information for readers in England only. 

Sources:*King’s College London and Ipsos MORI survey, May 2020 ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2020-05/kings_charts_28.5.20.pdf **nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-are-the-health-benefits-of-losing-weight/

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