How cold weather affects your health
It's not just illnesses you need to protect yourself from in winter. Winter weather can bring many risks to you and your family.
There's the usual winter coughs, colds and flu, but then there are also risks to your health associated with flooding and storms.
Why is winter weather a risk to our health?
Cold temperatures have an impact on our health, but there are other risks in winter including physical injuries from slips, trips and falls.
As we get older it becomes harder for our bodies to detect how cold we are, and it takes longer to warm up which can be bad for our health. For older people in particular, the longer the exposure to the cold, the more risk of heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia, depression, worsening arthritis and increased accidents at home (associated with loss of strength and dexterity in the hands).
Here's a video about how weather can affect our health and what you can do to manage the possible impacts:
Dealing with common winter illnesses
If you are normally healthy, many of the coughs, colds and minor illnesses that seem to happen more frequently during winter can be safely managed yourself. There's plenty of advice about dealing with common winter illnesses from NHS on their Stay well this winter website and you can also talk to your local pharmacist. We also have a page about the Norovirus.
Flu affects people in different ways. If you are healthy you will usually shake it off within a week. Flu vaccination is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are at most at risk from the effects of flu. This is to protect them from catching flu and developing serious complications. Find out who is eligible for a free flu jab.
Contact your GP or pharmacist if you think you, or someone you care for, should be eligible for a free flu jab. There's further information about flu and the flu vaccine on the flu pages of the NHS Choices website.
Keeping yourself warm at home in winter
- Keep your hands and face warm - if they get cold they can trigger a rise in blood pressure which puts you at increased risk of a heart attack
- Remember that several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer, as the layers trap warm air
- Wear warm clothes in bed. When very cold, wear thermal underwear, bed socks and even a hat - a lot of heat is lost through your head
- Read more tips about keeping your house warm and find out about the ideal room temperatures for your home.
Keep warm to keep well
It's important to stay active as this generates heat and helps to keep you warm. Try to keep moving when you're indoors, and don't sit still for more than an hour. If walking is difficult, you can do chair-based exercises. Even simply moving your arms and legs and wiggling your toes will get your circulation going.
Eating well in winter
It's important to make sure you (or someone you care for our visit) eats enough in winter and hot meals and drinks will help to keep you warm. Follow Age UK's tips to keep you eating well this winter:
- Try to eat at least one hot meal each day and have hot drinks during the day
- Include a good range of foods in your diet and aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, so that you're getting plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Remember that frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh
- If you're worried about a poor appetite, speak to your GP
- Have a hot drink before bed and keep one in a flask by your bedside
For more information or for your free copy of the Winter Wrapped Up guide, visit www.ageuk.org.uk/spreadthewarmth or call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 6565.
Cold weather alerts for healthcare professionals
The Met Office issues Cold Weather Alerts on our website and these are sent directly to social and healthcare services in England, and to Age UK. These alerts ensure that staff are fully prepared for any cold weather periods, and those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are aware and prepared.
Public Health England produces a Cold Weather Plan for England which helps to raise awareness of the harm to health from cold, and provides guidance on how to prepare for and respond to cold weather.