Health Matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.

AS PART of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, looks at how to keep yourself healthy through the winter.

As the nights get darker and the weather turns colder, more people get ill and need support from the health service. Last winter in the East Midlands alone more than 6,200 people were admitted into hospital with pneumonia while 1,185 wound up in hospital after falling in the icy conditions. Meanwhile, around 2,000 people a week visited their GP with flu-like symptoms.

While it is inevitable that some people will get sick at this time of year, there are plenty of steps that all of us can take to make sure we stay well this winter.

If you are over 65 or in an at risk group then getting the flu jab is essential. The seasonal flu vaccine is offered free of charge to at-risk groups to protect them from catching flu and developing serious complications. These include the over 65s, pregnant women and people who suffer from long-term illness. Call your local surgery If you are not sure whether you are in an at risk group.

Cold homes have a significant impact on people’s health, so making sure you keep your house warm during winter is crucial. There are lots of grants and advice available to help you do this.

The Warm Front Team advice line is 0800 316 2814, 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

Advice on Winter Fuel Payments for over-60s is on 08459 15 15 15, 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

The Energy Saving Trust Advice Centre can be contacted on 0800 512 012 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, for free, independent, impartial, local and expert advice about making your home more energy efficient.

Your main living room should be between around 18-21C (64-70F) and the rest of the house at a minimum of 16C (61F). It’s important to wrap up warm, both inside and out. Several thin layers of clothes are better than one thick layer. Don’t forget to wear hats, gloves and scarves. If possible, stay inside during a cold period if you have heart or respiratory problems.

When it’s cold and dark outside it can be tempting to fill up on unhealthy comfort food, but it’s important to ensure that you still keep your diet healthy and include five portions of fruit and veg a day. If you find yourself craving a sugary treat, try a juicy clementine or satsuma instead, or sweet dried fruits such as dates or raisins.

Winter is the perfect season for porridge. Eating a warm bowlful on a cold morning helps you to boost your intake of starchy foods and fibre, which give you energy and help you to feel fuller for longer, stopping the temptation to snack mid-morning. Oats also contain lots of vital vitamins and minerals.

Regular exercise helps to control your weight and boost your immune system, so it’s important that we don’t use the cold winter months as an excuse to stay in and lounge around. Instead, why not try out a new activity, maybe ice-skating, swimming or taking a bracing winter walk?

The winter months can place significant pressures on our health, so lets do all we can to stay healthy this winter.

More advice can be found at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/winterhealth.