What steps should you take to protect your health this winter? We’ve looked into how to get a home ready for winter, but how can you prepare your body?
The winter months leads to at least 25,000 excess deaths every year in England alone, with pregnant women, the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions particularly vulnerable. Cold weather can worsen a range of illnesses and make people less equipped to handle ill-health, with diseases such as the flu posing a serious risk to a number of demographics when the weather is bad.
To help people deal with the risks the winter poses, Public Health England (PHE) has today released its 2014 Cold Weather Plan. This plan encourages people to think about how their homes could be better kept warm, to consider whether they have the right insulation, to ensure they receive an annual central heating service and to get the flu inoculation if they are eligible.
Its ‘top tips’ for winter health and safety include:
- Keep the central heating at 18 degrees C or higher in order to minimise the risk cold weather poses to your health. This is particularly important for people with health problems and those aged 65 and over.
- If heating the whole house is difficult for any reason, then heat the living room during the daytime and heat up the bedroom before you get into bed.
- If eligible, get the flu jab – this will not just protect you, but will also protect the people you are in contact with.
- Listen to the weather forecast and plan in advance, purchasing supplies such as grit, salt and food when necessary.
- Look out for friends, neighbours and relatives who may be vulnerable over the winter.
- Keep active and have hot meals and drinks throughout the day to keep warm.
- If possible, improve the energy efficiency of your home with financial assistance, such as through the Green Deal, the Winter Fuel Allowance or the Energy Company Obligation.
- Rather than wearing one thick layer of clothing, wear a few thin layers.
- Wear slip-resistant shoes with a good grip when venturing outside.
- Have central heating systems and gas appliances serviced regularly.
Local Government Association Chair Councillor Izzi Seccombe advised people to look out for sings that something is wrong in their community, highlighting curtains that are drawn all day, newspapers stuck in the letterbox and milk bottles left outside as some of these.
These signs could reveal something has gone wrong and that somebody requires assistance, she pointed out.
PHE Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection Dr Angie Bone added that “relatively simple measures” can prevent many winter deaths, although she noted these measures are best done before the coldest months.
Many measures, such as improving the energy efficiency of the home, turning the heating on, keeping active and dressing warmly, are “common sense”, she argued, although she pointed out some people find these tasks challenging.
Therefore, everyone should think about someone they know who may be affected by the cold and take time to think about how they can help to protect this person’s health over the winter, Dr Bone said.