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It may be cold outside but winter needn't be the unhealthiest time of year for you and your family. Although colds and flu may start to circulate in the community, there are lots of things you can do to keep yourself healthy and well.
Below are some steps you can take yourself to help ward off winter illness. If you would like further information or details about local support, visit the Winter Health Support page.
Flu is a common infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes. It can be very unpleasant. It's not the same as the common cold and is caused by a different group of viruses. The symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer.
The flu vaccination is still the best protection against an unpredictable virus and is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are at risk. This is to ensure they are protected against catching flu and developing serious complications.
The flu vaccination programme is available nationwide to all eligible people. New this year, children in school year 4 will also be offered the vaccine in a school setting for the first time, along with children in reception and years 1, 2 and 3.
You're eligible to receive a free flu jab if you:
Your GP should be able to confirm if you're entitled to the free jab, or you can speak to your pharmacist about where to get a paid one from.
Feeling ill and want some advice? Pharmacists are expert healthcare professionals who can give advice and recommend treatments for minor health conditions such as coughs, colds, sore throats and childhood fever. It's estimated that each year 57 million visits to the GP are made for common ailments that would get the same treatment if the patient had visited a pharmacy.
Cold homes have a significant impact on people's health. Keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression. If you have reduced mobility, are 65 or over, or have a health condition such as heart or lung disease, you should heat your home to at least 18C (65F). For more information see our Keeping Warm page. You may also wish to read our page about Saving Money on your Energy Bills.
Daylight is good for boosting the immune system and preventing low mood, so try to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Move about in the house if the weather really is too bad to get out. If you really can't get out, try to make your home as light as airy as possible and sit near the window.
We all know that exercise is good for your overall health - and it can help keep you warm in winter. If you can stay active, even moderate exercise can bring health benefits. If possible, try not to sit still for more than an hour or so. Visit our Exercise and Sport page for ideas on how to get started.To find out what opportunities there are in your area you can visit the Active Essex website which has a 'Get Active' finder to find activities near you.
Eat as well as you can
Food is a vital source of energy, which helps keep your body warm. Try to make sure that you have hot meals and drinks regularly throughout the day, and keep active in the home if you can. Stock up to make sure you'll have a well-balanced diet even when you can't get to the shops. Frozen and tinned veg count as part of your five-a-day too. For more information see our Good Nutrition and Balanced Diet page.
Getting enough sleep is more important to our physical and mental health than we might realise. We all know what it feels like to be tired, but severe sleep deprivation can seriously impact our mood and ability to function. It's a myth that everyone needs eight hours uninterrupted sleep, but several hours of deep sleep are needed each night to feel fully rested.
You never know when you might not be able to get out, so make sure your medicine cabinet is stocked up. Remember to get your prescription medicines before Christmas Eve when many GPs and pharmacies will close for the holidays.
We know that carers can sometimes neglect their own health needs while caring for a loved one. It's important for our county's army of 180,000 carers to stay well and stay supported, so ensure you follow the advice above for both yourself and the person you're caring for.
Dark nights and cold can stop people from getting out, which can lead to feeling low, lonely and isolated. Try to keep in touch with your support network, even if it's just over the phone, as well as following the tips above. Even if you don't suffer from these issues, it's important to keep an eye out for others, especially elderly neighbours.
© Essex County Council 2017