Winter health

Some people are more vulnerable to the effects of cold weather. Those most at risk include:

  • people aged 65 and older
  • babies and children under the age of 5
  • people on low income (so cannot afford heating)
  • people who have a long-term health condition
  • disabled people
  • pregnant women
  • people who have a mental health condition.

As we get older, changes to our bodies mean that cold weather and winter bugs affect us more than they used to this can include:

Our immune system doesn’t function as well as we age. Our immune system helps us fight off germs and infections. Colds, flu and pneumonia are all more common in winter. It doesn’t have to be a cold winter for seasonal viruses such as flu, colds, and norovirus to spread.

Everyone aged 50 and over is entitled to a free flu jab from their doctor or pharmacist. The vaccines for this age group have an ingredient which helps to boost the immune system’s response to the vaccine. Even if you’re fit and healthy, it’s a great idea to have the jab to protect yourself and others. If you care for someone aged 65 or over, or are a frontline care worker, you should think about vaccinating yourself against the flu too.

There is also a vaccine available for pneumonia. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if you are eligible.

If you have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, or you are now eligible you should be invited to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Other things you can do to help prevent winter illness is by washing your hands regularly. This helps stop germs from spreading.

If you do have a cold or sore throat, speak to your pharmacist about the medicines available to help.

The cold puts more pressure on our hearts and circulatory systems. As we get older, our body must work harder to keep us warm. If you’re exposed to a cold environment for a long time, or extreme cold for only a short time, your blood pressure rises, and your blood thickens. This can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Make sure that you wrap up warm when you go out in the cold. Layering is the best way to keep warm in winter. A scarf can help you breathe more easily by wrapping it around your face before you go out in the cold. It will warm up the cold air before you breathe it in, reducing the risk of chest infections.

Make sure your home is warm enough. You should be aiming for about 21 degrees centigrade in your living room and about 18 degrees in your bedroom.

Changes to our bodies as we age can mean it’s harder to keep warm. From about the age of 55, we lose around 1% of our muscle mass every year so it is normal for you to feel the cold more than you used to.

Try not to sit still for more than one hour at a time. Even if just move your arms and legs, it will help you to keep warm.

Tips for keeping your home warm in colder weather

Follow these tips to keep you and your family warm and well at home:

  • if you’re not very mobile, are 65 or over, or have a health condition, such as heart or lung disease, heat your home to at least 18C
  • keep your bedroom at 18C all night if you can – and keep bedroom window closed
  • if you’re under 65, healthy and active, you can safely have your home cooler than 18C, as long as you’re comfortable
  • use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed – but do not use both at the same time
  • have at least 1 hot meal a day – eating regularly helps keep you warm
  • have hot drinks regularly
  • to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), babies should sleep in rooms heated to between 16C and 20C
  • draw curtains at dusk and keep doors closed to block out draughts
  • have your heating system checked regularly by a qualified professional