The general principles for keeping fit and healthy are the same, all year round but winter brings particular challenges for our immune systems, increasing the risk of infections.
We don't fully understand why this is but a combination of low temperatures, less daylight and the changes in our activity this brings, are probably to blame.
Anything we can do to help strengthen our immune defences will help to keep us well:
Coughs, colds, flu and stomach bugs (such as norovirus) are transmitted, to some extent, by touch. A strong routine of hand washing before eating and after using the toilet can help to reduce the spread of these viral illnesses.
Regular moderate physical activity raises your metabolic rate (turning up your body's central heating) and stimulates your immune system to help it fight infections.
It is tempting to fill up on much higher calorie comfort food in the winter. While some extra calories might be a good thing, providing we remain active, our immune systems need vitamins and minerals to work effectively. A balanced, varied diet including plenty of vegetables and fruit is even more important in the winter than the summer months.
There is a natural tendency to sleep more, as the nights get longer. Being overtired can really depress your immune system, so getting more sleep can be a worthwhile investment for your health, enabling you to fight off infection.
As the days shorten, it can be difficult to get enough exposure to daylight. This can affect our brains ability to distinguish day from night, leading to poor quality sleep at night and excessive tiredness and low mood during the day. Try to get outside at lunchtime. Sit near the window and get as much daylight as you can.
As well as the increased risks of heart disease and cancers, smokers are also more susceptible to infections, as smoking reduces the first line defences in the nose and throat. Once smokers have a cold, they are much more prone to more serious 'secondary' infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The benefits of giving up smoking are even greater in the winter.
The Flu Vaccine is highly effective and very safe. Flu is very unpleasant for anybody but can be more serious, even fatal, in the elderly or those with medical conditions which increase the risk of complications. For 'at risk' patients, having your flu jab is highly recommended.
I will be talking in more detail about how you can keep healthier this winter at our Well at Home event on Friday 18th November at the Corn Exchange in Devizes. If you can join us, be great to see you; otherwise follow us on Twitter and join us on our Facebook page for updates.
About Jamie Brosch
Jamie was a founding director of Wiltshire Medical Services and became Medical Director for Medvivo Group when it was formed in 2013. He has 20 years of experience as a GP Principal in Wiltshire and continues to work as a sessional GP, which allows him to maintain full registration with the GMC and on the GP Performers List.
Jamie has always supported a holistic approach to general practice and is a strong advocate for the integration of physical and mental health services with the delivery of social care.
Your login details have been used by another user or machine. Login details can only be used once at any one time so you have therefore automatically been logged out. Please contact your sites administrator if you believe this other user or machine has unauthorised access.