Preparing for the cold and flu season

How you can help your body's defenses

Clinically reviewed by Macarena Staudenmaier, written by Nick Thompson on 28/11/2023

The winter months mean one thing when it comes to health in the UK: cold and flu cases. But what causes this perceived rise? And what can we do to protect ourselves? We'll explain everything in this article, and help provide some tips to keep you up, about, and healthy over the winter. 

We’ll start by taking a look at what might cause the spread of cold and flu in the colder months:

All of this suggests that whilst the wintry weather doesn't cause illness, it can contribute to the spread of colds and flu.

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What can we do to avoid the winter illnesses?

 

Eat a balanced diet

Your immune system is the body's defence mechanism against germs and bugs; a nutritious diet is integral to its effectiveness. You want enough vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A, C, D, and zinc, to ensure you can put up a good fight. In most cases, you can get these from a well-balanced diet, including fruit and vegetables, but when it comes to vitamin D, you may need a supplement during the winter months, as the primary source of this is sunlight on the skin.

Stay on top of your vaccines

The flu vaccine can help protect against the main types of flu viruses and protect those at risk of getting seriously ill. Those who are vulnerable can get the flu jab for free on the NHS, including anyone 65 and over. If you aren't in a vulnerable category, you can still pay to get the jab through your local chemist or pharmacy.

Wash your hands and clean regularly

Cold and flu can be transmitted through coughing and sneezing, with the droplets containing the germs landing on surfaces. If you touch those surfaces and then touch your face, you risk those germs entering your body. Protection starts with washing your hands with soap and water, using hand sanitiser, and probably the hardest of all, avoiding touching your face.

Avoid close contact with anyone who's showing symptoms

This one may sound simple and obvious, but if you go into the office and someone is coughing and sneezing, it's best not to be near them. Cold and flu are respiratory illnesses; close contact with that person will increase your risk of catching the germs. If you're the one coughing and sneezing, try staying home if possible. It'll help you recover while stopping the spread.  

Try to keep warm

Ensure that your outfit is appropriate for the weather when going outside, and, if possible, heat your home to a comfortable temperature. Ideally, this is at least 18˚ C in your bedroom.

Two women walking their dogs along a countryside path in the winter

There is no guaranteed method to avoid getting colds or the flu, but you can help protect yourself. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and having good general hygiene can go a long way. To put it into an easy-to-follow list:

  1. Exercise weekly
  2. Avoid touching your face
  3. Try to get 8 hours of sleep a night
  4. Make sure your vaccines are up-to-date
  5. Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser regularly
  6. Eat a balanced diet with a variety of fruit and vegetable
  7. If you can, avoid crowded places, or being near anyone displaying symptoms

Reviewed by Macarena Staudenmaier

Written by Nick Thompson

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