Cold weather can make some health problems worse and even lead to serious complications, especially if you are 65 or older, or if you have a long-term health condition. Luckily there are some simple steps we can take to stay healthy this winter.
Get your vaccines
Everyone over 50 can get a free autumnal flu and COVID jab. Getting both vaccines is important as, over the past couple of years, we have seen lower levels of flu circulating, owing to COVID-related interventions, such as restricted socialising and mask-wearing. Therefore, as social activity returns to pre-pandemic levels this autumn and winter, we are expecting to see a resurgence of flu, as fewer people will have built up a natural immunity to it. Combined with a potential rise in COVID cases, experts are warning of a threat of a “twindemic”.
It’s safe to get both the flu and COVID vaccine at the same time, although it’s recommended people get vaccinated as soon as possible and not to wait to get both together. A record number of sites are delivering autumn COVID-19 boosters, while the flu jab is being offered at hundreds of community pharmacies and GP surgeries across London. Residents of the capital can arrange to get their life-saving jabs quickly and easily online at www.nhs.uk/covidvaccine or through the free 119 phone service. For a full list of pharmacies offering a free NHS flu vaccination, please visit the nhs.uk website.
Both vaccines are effective against the viruses and have been rigorously tested and approved by the UK’s independent medicine and vaccine regulator. If you do get sick, being vaccinated reduces your risk of getting a severe case of the illness and ending up in the hospital. It also makes it less likely that you’ll pass the virus on to others.
You might have a slightly raised temperature after getting the vaccine, or a sore arm where the needle went in. You can manage these symptoms by getting rest and taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Keep yourself and your home warm
If you’re over 65 or are not very mobile, heat your home to at least 18C. You may be able to claim financial and practical help with heating your home. Grants available include the GOV.UK Winter Fuel Payment and the Cold Weather Payment.
For more information on how to reduce your bills and make your home more energy efficient, go to GOV.UK Find ways to save energy in your home, or call the government helpline on 0800 444 202. You can also find out about benefits and financial support if you’re on a low income at GOV.UK.
It’s worth claiming all the benefits you’re entitled to as soon as winter begins.
Try to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down during the day. Break up your time spent being inactive by walking around your home or standing up from your chair during TV advert breaks or when you’re on the phone.
By staying active you are helping yourself stay warm. There’s also strong evidence that people who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia. Regular exercise can also reduce the risk of falling and can be beneficial for recovery if you do get ill.
If you’re heading outside, make sure you’re wearing sturdy shoes in case pavements are slippery and wear several thin layers, rather than one big layer, to trap body heat.
Get advice if you feel unwell
If you are 65 or over, or in one of the other at-risk groups, it’s important to get medical help as soon as you feel unwell.
You can get help and advice from:
- a pharmacy – pharmacists can give treatment advice for a range of minor illnesses and can tell you if you need to see a doctor
- your GP – you may be able to speak to a GP online or over the phone, or go in for an appointment if they think you need to
- NHS 111 – go to nhs.uk or call 111 if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do
The sooner you get advice, the sooner you are likely to get better.
If you are an organisation you can download the Autumn Booster Toolkit, posters and leaflets from the Age UK London website here.