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Keeping protected from winter sicknesses

It’s not uncommon to pick up a sniffly nose or scratchy throat during the colder months of the year.

Last updated: May 29th 2022
Your body is better able to fight off infections and viruses when it is at a comfortable temperature. [Source: iStock]

Your body is better able to fight off infections and viruses when it is at a comfortable temperature. [Source: iStock]

Key points

  • Viruses, like the flu, the common cold or COVID-19, thrive during the colder months
  • Eating well, staying warm and avoiding catching germs from others can help minimise your risk of getting a virus
  • Manage your current health conditions and keep up to date with your immunisations to help keep viruses at bay

Viruses, like the flu or the common cold, reproduce really well in colder temperatures, which is why they can spread so far during the colder months.

However, there are a number of steps you can take to safeguard yourself from these sicknesses during winter.

Basic hygiene and avoiding germs

Many of the principles and methods we learnt to protect ourselves from COVID-19 also translate well to protecting us from everyday viruses.

This includes socially distancing from others, especially if they are feeling sick or exhibit cold-like symptoms, and avoiding high-risk spaces.

Additionally, try not to touch surfaces in public if you can help it, like door handles or traffic light buttons. It can be really handy to bring hand sanitiser around with you so you can disinfect your hands every now and then.

You should also regularly wash your hands and practise good personal hygiene to get rid of any lurking germs.

If you need to sneeze or cough, try to do so into a tissue or by covering your mouth and nose, not only is it polite, but it also helps reduce the spread of a virus.

COVID-19 is a good example, as it is infamous for being airborne, and coughing and sneezing made the virus spread very fast.

If you think you might have COVID-19, make sure to get tested as you can be the circuit breaker to prevent an outbreak among your friends, family or aged care facility.

During winter, when the house can get very wet, it is a prime time for mould to grow inside. This can cause cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough, headaches, nausea and fatigue.

Mould in the home can have a bad effect on your physical health and wellbeing, so you should be regularly checking for mould in your home and keeping your house well-ventilated. Make sure you get your house treated if you do have mould.

Keep up to date with immunisations

It is important to keep up to date with any vaccinations you need, such as the influenza shot or the COVID-19 jab.

These vaccinations can give you better protection against diseases and viruses that can have a dangerous effect on an ageing body.

It is recommended to regularly get the flu vaccine, as the formula gets updated every year for new strains. Talk to your doctor to organise your next flu vaccination.

If you need to enter high-risk settings, like aged care facilities, you need to be vaccinated for the influenza virus. It is voluntary for aged care residents to be vaccinated and is not a requirement to live in an aged care home.

Managing health conditions

Older people tend to have one or multiple ongoing health conditions that can impact their overall health and wellbeing.

It is important to manage these health conditions appropriately, as it can make the difference in preventing illnesses you may pick up during the winter.

For instance, around one in five older Australians aged 75 and over have diabetes (2018 data). Diabetes can put you more at risk of getting a cold or the flu due to your already weakened immune system. It can be harder to manage your blood sugar levels if you are also fighting off an infection or virus.

Whereas, if you live with asthma, try to avoid activities that may trigger it, such as being out in cold air or wood smoke.

Keeping on top of your chronic health conditions can have a big impact on preventing yourself from catching viruses in winter.

Health and wellbeing

One way to keep healthy and well during winter is to make sure you are fueling your body with the right nutrients.

You should eat lots of vegetables and fruits that can give you the immune boost in vitamins and minerals you need to fight cold and flu germs.

Vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamin C or animal products, seeds and nuts with zinc can help prevent or treat colds.

You should also monitor your iron levels and make sure you are eating red meat or iron-rich vegetables, like beetroot and spinach, which can strengthen your body’s response to viruses.

While winter can be wet, cold and dark, going out to get some sun can be a great way to absorb vitamin D while keeping your body in good shape.

If the weather isn’t too bad, be active, get involved in winter sports, or keep up with your regular gym routine.

Basic chores around the home can also keep you active and healthy, like cleaning or gardening.

You should also remember to keep hydrated and drink lots of water, just because it isn’t 30 degrees outside doesn’t mean you can’t become dehydrated.

Additionally, lots of warm drinks, like green tea and coffee, are diuretics and can quickly make you dehydrated, so try not to over consume warm drinks with caffeine.

Lastly, don’t overdo it during winter. If you wake up and feel like you want to have a relaxed day, then do it. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Keep toasty

Your body is better able to fight off infections and viruses when it is at a comfortable temperature.

Cold weather can be a big danger for older people and some people die from hypothermia in winter.

Older people tend to avoid using heaters during the cold months due to the huge energy bills, which is why it is important to put in place good measures to keep yourself warm.

For instance, closing all your curtains and doors can be helpful in keeping the heat in and the cold out.

Layering clothing can also keep your body temperature up and wearing beanies can prevent heat from being lost from the top of your head.

Drinking hot drinks can help warm your body up, like tea, coffee or hot water, and try to eat a hot meal at least once a day.

If you do indeed want to avoid the electricity costs of using heaters, you can alternatively try to warm up your home by putting out rugs to prevent the cold from sinking into the floor, and using hot water bottles, heat packs, and blankets.

If you are a wheelchair user, you may like to use warm seat covers and wear gloves to keep you warm when out and about.

Remember, to look after yourself and make sure you are comfortable. If you have tried alternative methods to keep yourself warm without success, it may be time to turn the heater on.

A cold house can be dangerous for elderly people as cold air can impact your breathing, increase blood pressure and put you at risk of hospitalisation or needing medical attention.

What are your top tips for staying healthy during winter? Tell us in the comments below.

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