Posted on 19/12/2019

How does winter weather really affect our health and wellbeing?

How does winter weather really affect our health and wellbeing?

Despite all its Christmassy charm, winter in the UK can be challenging, with regular freezing temperatures, icy conditions and shorter daylight hours. The winter environment can affect everyone’s health, but for people living with health conditions, such as COPD or Raynaud’s phenomenon, winter can pose the added risk of flare ups.

This year we’re helping to raise awareness of the ways winter weather can affect us, whilst also helping more people find ways to manage their flare ups, so they can stay well and comfortable this winter.

Whilst most of these tips are things you can do yourself, it is important to seek medical advice if you are finding it difficult to manage your health condition this winter. Your GP will be able to give you specific advice and many health conditions will require certain medication or treatments that can help your wellbeing.

Lung conditions

During the winter the air we breathe into our lungs is colder and often drier. Our lungs are sensitive to this cold and it can cause flare ups in different health conditions, including lung disease, COPD and asthma. If you have been diagnosed with a lung condition, there are a number of ways you can try to manage and avoid your flare ups.

  • Wear a scarf and hat and keep your mouth covered when outside so you’re breathing in warmer air
  • Try to breath in more through your nose when outside as the air will be warmer entering your lungs
  • Keep your medication at hand and stay prepared, make sure you have enough medication to last you and if you need more medication book an appointment in good time
  • Avoid going outside in extremely cold conditions
  • Regulate the temperature in your home so you know the right temperature you need to stay warm and comfortable
  • Dress in lots of thin layers to stay warm

The British Lung Foundation has been involved in research that looks at the rise of respiratory problems in winter. Their report in 2017 found that “there are 80% more lung disease admissions in the winter months of December, January and February then there are in the warmer spring months of March, April and May.” They also found that this pattern had been repeating for the previous seven years and they addressed the need for hospitals to recognise this and adapt to the influx in respiratory admissions during the winter.

Whilst people living with lung conditions should keep a close eye on their symptoms, anyone who experiences problems with their breathing should either contact their doctor or call the emergency number if they are struggling to breathe.

Raynaud’s phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a health condition caused by spasms in the arteries, which can reduce blood flow to certain areas of the body, typically the fingers and toes. These spasms are usually triggered by cold weather, so keeping hands and feet warm and protected during the winter is of great importance to anyone who is living with Raynaud’s. There are some other ways to help manage flare ups and avoid health symptoms getting worse.

  • Dress in lots of thin layers – this will keep your body warmer than just one or two thicker layers and means you can add more layers or take them off easily
  • Long, warm socks and gloves are vital in the cold. You can also get hand and feet warmers if you need extra warmth
  • Avoid other factors that can worsen symptoms, such as caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Avoid going out in very cold temperatures
  • Gentle and regular exercise can help to increase blood flow and therefore keep your fingers and toes warmer

S.A.D. / Depression

In the winter months, we see the least amount of daylight throughout the year and this can affect our energy and mood. However, for some people this change in daylight can have more severe effects on their health and lead to a form of depression, best known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you have been diagnosed with SAD there are a number of ways to help improve your symptoms.

  • Increasing intake of natural light – even if you can only manage a quick walk at lunchtime, getting some daylight and fresh air every day or as often as you can is perhaps the most beneficial thing you can do to help SAD symptoms
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet will help you get the right vitamins and nutrients whilst releasing energy slowly
  • Exercise can be difficult to start if you are lacking energy or motivation, however it is one of the best ways to improve your mood and reduce stress. Finding exercise that you enjoy will help you to start and keep a regular routine
  • SAD light – SAD lamps or lights are often used in the winter to try and imitate daylight and encourage your brain to produce the hormones that it would usually produce in natural light

It can be hard to talk to people about the way you feel, but it can help family and friends to understand and support you better. It is important to remember you are not alone in how you are feeling and there is a lot of information, as well as other personal stories about SAD, on Mind’s website as well as other mental health charity websites and the NHS page for SAD.

What can we all do to protect our health this winter?

The winter environment affects us all and whilst people living with health conditions can be affected in various ways, it’s clear there are some consistent things that everyone can do to help their wellbeing this winter.

Keep moving – doing regular exercise is good for both your mental and physical health; it can increase your blood flow, improve breathing and help to lift your mood. This doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or going for a run in icy temperatures, there are many different types of exercise, such as walking, swimming and even doing daily tasks at home, to keep you moving and improve your wellbeing. It is important to find exercise that is right for you and not overexert yourself, especially if you are living with a health condition.

Eat and drink well – during the winter we usually eat more and turn to heartier meals such as soups and casseroles, however it is important to make sure you’re not overindulging and are still eating a balanced diet to get the rights nutrients and vitamins. Hot meals and drinks are a great way to stay warm for longer.

Get some daylight – we see much less daylight in the winter, but it is still there. Try to catch some daylight every day if you are able, but make sure you wrap up and avoid extremely cold or icy conditions.

Lamps and lights – more people are using SAD lamps, to help them get more exposure to light, and sunrise alarm clocks, which slowly light your bedroom in the morning, to help their body wake up before it gets light outside. Although some people feel sunrise alarms are beneficial, they are not medical equipment that would be prescribed.

Medication – if you or someone you care for is taking regular medication for a health condition it is important to stay prepared by checking you have enough medication and booking doctor’s appointments or new prescriptions early.

Keep an eye on the temperature – if you’re changing the temperature a lot inside, or find yourself getting cold, consider getting a thermometer or changing your thermostat so you know what temperature is suitable to keep warm (woolly clothes, heated blankets and hot drinks are a great way to stay warm if you’re unable to change the heating).

I get by with a little help from... winter aids

There are lots of different products and aids that can help you to manage your health condition and stay well in the icy and cold weather.

For anyone who is a little unsteady on their feet, outdoor grab rails can be used to give added stability when leaving or entering your home and rollators and walking sticks are ideal ways to offer better stability when you’re out and about. Check out our range of walking aids to find out more.

You will find lots of different products that will help you to stay warm this winter. At NRS we offer products such as thermal gloves and wheat warmers to keep your joints and muscles warm and kitchen aids that can help you to make hot drinks safely or keep food and drink warmer for longer.

We also have a whole range of physio aids and exercise aids to help keep you moving this winter!

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