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We’re well into Autumn now, and that first touch of chill is in the evening air. As winter closes in, many of us start to find it’s getting harder to stay well.
While cold weather itself won’t make you sick, lower temperatures can help bugs to spread by increasing their ability to survive and transmit between hosts and can weaken our immune systems too. At the same time, shorter daylight hours and colder, wetter weather in New Zealand’s temperate climate can make us less active, and mean we seek out more ‘comforting foods’ rather than fresh healthy ones – further weakening our immune systems.
Here are some tips for helping you fight off winter ills and chills over the coming months - and now’s a good time to start preparing.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that good hygiene plays a big role in preventing us from contracting contagious illnesses. Wash your hands frequently especially after you’ve been in public or crowded areas. If you feel unwell, avoid going out to help stop it from spreading to others.
Flu in New Zealand took a hit last year, with the spread slowed by lockdowns and social distancing measures implemented to prevent COVID-19. This year we may see it increase to higher levels as life returns to a more normal routine. The best way to reduce your risk is to get the flu shot. The flu vaccination is available in New Zealand generally from late April – if you’re enrolled with our network (which includes Local Doctors, White Cross, and Bettr online doctors) we can keep you updated. We also provide lower fees for every doctor appointment and for vaccinations too.
It’s also a good time to make sure you’ve had your MMR shots (particularly if you are between 15-35, or if you have a young child – it’s free in New Zealand).
The winter blues is another cause of feeling below par in the colder months. Shorter colder days and less time for leisure can add to feeling low. It does get tricky in those miserable mid-winter months and feels counter-intuitive, but taking the time and making the effort to rug up and get outdoors can work wonders. Vitamin D deficiency commonly occurs in the winter months and can affect mood as well as causing other health issues such as fatigue, muscle weakness or even pain.
Over time, Vitamin D is essential to strong bones, muscles and general health. Sunlight on your skin is the best way to help your body produce more (along with some foods like dairy, oily fish and eggs and some enriched foods).
You can also talk to a Bettr doctor about Vitamin D deficiency and possible supplementation if you are concerned. If you’re having concerns about your mental wellness, we can talk to you about that too. You can learn more about everything we treat, here.
Both relaxation and activity are vital to keeping yourself in shape. Getting enough sleep is widely known to aid good health and keep your immune system humming, with the general rule being at least 7-8 hours a night. At the other end of the effort spectrum, daily exercise, as well as meditation is proven to significantly decrease sickness (for respiratory infection).
Many swear by it for better general health and mental wellness too (and if you go a bit too hard on the exercise and end up needing ACC, we are always here to help you out with that as well...).
Staying well-hydrated and upping your intake of immune-boosting foods and those rich in nutrients will help to keep your body functioning well. Natural, whole, unprocessed foods, like brightly coloured vegetables and fruits as well as whole grains are good for the immune system.
Try a hearty warming pumpkin soup made with a heavy dose of garlic and onion, for a highly affordable, easy and delicious way to load up on some nutrition. Try to avoid immune-suppressing substances like alcohol too.
You can find some more tips on eating your way to good health here, (also perfect in the event you do come down with a bug).
Irritation and nasal inflammation caused by any allergies you might have can increase your susceptibility to viruses, so making sure you’re on top of them with medication can help you to stay feeling tip-top. This frees your immune system up to focus on other battles, if it needs to.
Your physical environment plays a big role in staying healthy. Rugging up in warm clothes will help your body stay warmer and keep you comfortable, but keeping your living environment warm too has even greater benefits. We all know how important a warm, dry home is, keeping you comfortable and making your home less hospitable to bugs so they don’t spread so easily.
There are also ways to do this effectively while keeping an eye on costs. To keep heating costs down, focus on keeping just the rooms you are using warm, rather than trying to warm your whole house. Keep doors closed, block drafts (like chimney flues and underneath doors) with towels, and cover windows to prevent heat escaping.
Keeping moisture levels down helps greatly, reducing the risk of mould and making air more breathable. Avoid drying wet washing inside, and open a window while you shower or cook, then close everything back up tight again once the moisture has escaped. Your lungs will thank you.
If you’re renting, you have rights that include a house that is well-enough insulated. Talk to your landlord or rental agency to make sure your home is up to scratch.
If you do end up needing a doctor when you’re under the weather, and you have a condition or illness that can be taken care of remotely, there are many benefits of seeing a remote doctor.
Firstly you can avoid clinic waiting rooms and exposure to others with illness. Secondly, you can avoid having to get out of bed yourself.
You can do more online than you might think! An online doctor can still support you with diagnosis and treatment for many conditions, and can give you a prescription for many of the common medications you might need for your treatment, including for cold and flu symptoms – such as pain relief, cold medications, sinus treatments and many others.
With more people seeing online doctors, waiting rooms are freed up for those who really need them too, a win-win all around.
Ready to book? You can book an appointment now to see one our online doctors.