Take care of your body this winter

Posted on December 10, 2014

Hands holding warm drinkTake care of your body this winter

Certain health issues such as colds, joint pain and dry skin can be exacerbated by the cold weather. We expose the common winter health complaints and reveal how to stave off familiar sicknesses that creep out at this time of year.

Dry skin

During the winter, air humidity plummets along with the temperature1, drying out the air and in the process, skin. Protective barriers such as gloves, hats and scarves will help the skin to maintain its moisture, but there are other ways to keep your skin healthy.

For example, dermatologists recommend limiting time exposed to hot water when warming up in the shower to reduce the risk of aggravating already dry skin. Spending five to ten minutes under warm water, blotting dry with a soft towel and applying liberal layers of rich moisturiser will trap existing moisture on the skin. Moisturisers rich in olive or jojoba oil are more effective at keeping skin smooth, calm and supple2.

Cold hands

When the temperature drops, the body closes small arteries in the skin to help maintain a constant body temperature of 37 degrees, meaning hands, feet and other extremities can turn pale and feel very cold. This is completely normal but very uncomfortable when trying to type, cook dinner, do buttons up and go about day to day life.

Ensure you keep well wrapped up when outdoors, with pocket hand warmers in every pocket so you're just a snap away from instant warmth. When you're at home turn the thermostat up to 18 degrees3 and consider some furnishing tweaks such as heavier winter ready curtains, chimney balloons and draught excluders. The BBC has a great guide to help keep your house warm4. Last but not least, regular hot meals and plenty of warm drinks will top up your temperature - hot chocolate can be the best medicine.

Painful joints

Just as the extremities receive less blood during colder conditions, the same can be said for joints. Less blood can cause discomfort even when there are no pre-existing joint conditions such as arthritis5. However, if you're uncertain of the cause then visit your GP for advice. 

Exercise can help to keep your body warm and work out stiff, cold and aching joints such as wrists, elbows and knees. Gentle walking or jogging, split into manageable time frames, will encourage the heart to pump blood further around the body and warm the joints. If you experience pain in the lower joints, such as the knees, then try swimming to decrease weight related pressure as you move.

Norovirus

The most common stomach complaint in the winter is norovirus, so much so that it's often referred to as the winter vomiting bug. When contracted, the symptoms will usually clear up within a few days without the need for you to visit a GP, although it's still a nasty bug to endure.

Nearly one million people6 in the UK are diagnosed with norovirus every year. It's highly contagious and commonly caught in public places such as swimming pools, hospitals, nursing homes and schools. To avoid spreading or catching the bug wash your hands frequently, keep a towel for personal use and regularly disinfect communal areas. It is important to do this as the virus can survive on surfaces days after an infected person has touched them.

Common cold and flu

Prevention is better than cure (and worse luck for sufferers, there is no cure) so the best advice is to avoid unnecessary contact, even if you want to huddle for warmth. Keep cooking and eating utensils exclusively for your own use, keep warm - as shivering depresses the immune system, don't share towels and flannels, wash hands thoroughly and regularly, and keep surfaces clean and disinfected7.

Smokers may find they have stronger cold and flu symptoms, as the smoke from cigarettes increases lung inflammation and damage8. The exaggerated response is not exclusive to the smoker as it also regularly affects those encountering second hand smoke. Quitting the habit will help keep you healthier this winter, so reach out to the NHS for your Free Quit Kit and face to face support.

Sources

1 http://www.webmd.com/beauty/dry-skin-causes
2 https://www.aad.org/dermatology/dry-skin-tips
3 http://www.nhs.uk/winterhealth/KeepWarmKeepWell
4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine
5 https://www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/winter-aches-and-pains
6 http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Norovirus/Pages/Introduction
7 http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cold-common/Pages/Introduction
8 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008

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