Keeping well this winter
Year on year millions of us blame the dark, gloomy winter months for our miserable moods, and yet the idea still remains that the winter blues is just a myth. But now there is now scientific evidence to support the idea that the seasons can actually affect our frame of mind.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the official name for the 'winter blues'. It is characterised by episodes of depression that recur at the same time each year, but most commonly appears during the winter as the symptoms tend to be worse during this time,
It is thought that SAD affects one in 15 Britons during the winter, many of those diagnosed concerning younger people in their twenties.
The symptoms for SAD include; being less active, being in an irritable mood, feelings of despair, having low self-esteem, feeling tired and sleeping more (hypersomnia), not being able to concentrate and putting on weight.
People who believe they are showing symptoms for SAD are being urged by the NHS in South Tynside, to make a number of simple lifestyle changes. Taking exercise outside being number one.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, which produced a report on the mental health benefits of exercise, said, "There's convincing evidence that 30 minutes' vigorous exercise three times a week is effective against depression, and anecdotal evidence that lighter exercise will have a beneficial effect too."
"If you have a tendency towards SAD, outdoor exercise will have a double benefit, because you'll gain some daylight."
Activity is believed to change the level of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin in the brain.
The Ramblers' Association offers a Festival of Winter Walks with routes ranging from three to 10 miles. They're a great way to enjoy some moderate, daylight activity.
Trying to get as much natural sunlight as possible is also highly advised, with even a brief lunchtime walk being beneficial.
It's also important to eat well during the winter. Winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and bread, but don't forget to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, too.
Tips to stay active and healthy:
- Make eating fun by experimenting with seasonal vegetables such as cauliflower, brussel sprouts, swedes, parsnips and turnips. These can be cheap, easy to find and can make hearty soups.
- Having a hearty breakfast, such as awarm bowl of porridge on a cold morning isn't just a delicious way to start your day; it also helps you to boost your intake of starchy foods and fibre. Add fruits to include 1 of your 5 a day.
- Get out and try new activities with the whole family, maybe ice-skating or taking a bracing winter walk on the beach. Regular exercise helps to control your weight, boost your immune system and is a good way to break the tension that can build if the family is constantly cooped up inside the house.
- A home workout is free and perfect if you'd rather stay indoors, you're short on time or if the weather's putting you off. Think about how you can use familiar objects around the house, such as the stairs, chairs, soup cans and water bottles to exercise with. Check out fitness DVDs or even YouTube for video clips on getting fit at home.
If you would like to have a personalised healthy eating plan, advice on weight management courses, or would just like more information on leading a healthier lifestyle, contact the South Tyneside PCT health and lifestyle advisors on 0191 283 1156.
Symptoms of Winter depression
In addition to those symptoms listed above, other symptoms of winter SAD may include:
- being less active
- feeling tired and sleeping more (hypersomnia)
- not having as much energy
- not being able to concentrate
- putting on weight
- an increased appetite and eating more than usual (hyperphagia)
- craving carbohydrates (starchy foods, such as bread and pasta)
Ruth McKeown, director of public health for NHS South of Tyne and Wear working on behalf of South Tyneside Primary Care Trust (PCT), said: "Our role is not only to ensure health services are available for you when you become ill but also to work towards helping you to live a healthier lifestyle
"A healthy lifestyle can help prevent you from developing long-term conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Keeping active, along with eating healthily, drinking sensibly, stopping smoking, practising safe sex and managing your stress levels can all help to keep you in good health."
Vicky Gilmore, health and lifestyle advisor for NHS South of Tyne and Wear, working on behalf of South Tyneside Primary Care Trust (PCT) said: "It's vital to eat a varied, well balanced diet in order to maintain good health during the winter months.
"I know it's tempting to fill up on high fat foods and desserts but always try to remember to eat your five a day as fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals which can help fight coughs and colds."
Keep Warm, Keep Well
Very cold weather can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and severe breathing problems, as well as the number of falls.
During this prolonged cold spell, hospitals see more people with heart and chest problems and injuries caused by slips and falls. The advice is to stay well and look out for vulnerable friends and neighbours by checking they are warm enough, especially at night, and that they have food and medicines so they don't need to go out.
Top tips for keeping well in cold weather:
- At home, close curtains and shut doors to keep heat in
- Use hot water bottles or electric blankets to stay warm at night
- Eat well - try to have regular, hot meals and drink plenty throughout the day
- Wrap up warm, inside and out. Several thin layers are better than one thick layer. Wear hats, gloves and scarves
- If possible, stay inside during a cold period if you have heart or breathing problems
- Keep active. Move around at least once an hour and don't sit down for long periods. Even light exercise will help keep you warm and improve circulation
- Make sure you get a proper night's sleep. People who don't are 3 times more likely to get a cold
- Eat well - continue to eat your 5 a day
- Keep moving and don't hide away during those long winter nights. Try walking and kicking up those leaves to keep yourself fit.
- Wear a hat! We lose around 30% of our body heat through our head, so if you want to get ahead, get a hat!
- Wash your hands frequently. This stops germs being passed around the office
- Nip cold symptoms in the bud by visiting your local pharmacy for advice
- Sneeze and cough into a hanky, then bin it sensibly
- Stop slips and trips. Wear sensible footwear during the icy months
- Check your car before long journeys and be prepared for any problems on the road
For more information please visit Keep Warm, Keep Well
Hypothermia is when a person's normal body temperature of around 37°C (98.6°F) drops below 35°C (95°F).
It is usually caused by being in a cold environment. It can be triggered by a combination of things, including prolonged exposure to cold (such as staying outdoors in cold conditions or in a poorly heated room for a long time), rain, wind, sweat, inactivity or being in cold water.
There are different types of hypothermia, which depend on how quickly the body loses heat.
- Acute or immersion hypothermia occurs when a person loses heat very rapidly, for example by falling into cold water.
- Exhaustion hypothermia occurs when a person's body is so tired it can no longer generate heat.
- Chronic hypothermia is when heat loss occurs slowly over time. This is common in elderly people living in a poorly heated house, or in people sleeping rough.
When your body gets cold, the normal response is to warm up by becoming more active, putting on more layers or moving indoors. But if exposure to the cold continues, your body's automatic defence system will try to prevent any further heat loss by:
- shivering (which keeps the major organs at normal temperature),
- restricting blood flow to the skin, and
- releasing hormones to generate heat.
After prolonged exposure to the cold, these responses are not enough to maintain body temperature, as they also drain energy.
When the body's energy is exhausted, it slowly starts to shut down. Shivering stops and your heartbeat begins to slow. This life-threatening stage can develop very quickly, so it is vital that hypothermia is treated as a medical emergency.
Each year in the UK, hypothermia is the main contributing factor to the deaths of more than 400 people over the age of 65.
Elderly people and those who are ill and unable to move around easily are especially vulnerable to hypothermia. This can be due to poorly heated accommodation, not eating enough or not being active enough to generate energy.
If the weather is cold, dress appropriately before you go outside. Even if the rest of the body is covered up, significant amounts of body heat can be lost through the head, so wear a warm hat.
Layers of clothing trap air, which helps to keep you warm. Tightly woven, waterproof clothes are best when outside
Drink plenty of fluids and hot drinks (not alcohol) and eat regular, balanced meals to give you energy
- Keep active when it is cold, but not to the point where you are sweating. If you exercise outdoors in the winter and get sweaty from this, make sure you dry off and put on warm clothes immediately after.
- Keep dry and change out of wet clothes as soon as possible. Wet clothes lose about 90% of their insulating power.
- Cut down on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine as all three aggravate heat loss.
- Keep your house warm during cold weather. If you are concerned about heating costs, you could try just keeping one room in the house warm. Keeping windows and doors closed also helps to trap heat
The symptoms of hypothermia depend on how cold the environment is and how long you are exposed for.
Severe hypothermia needs urgent medical treatment in hospital. Shivering is a good guide to how severe the condition is. If the person can stop shivering on their own, the hypothermia is mild, but if they cannot stop shivering, it is moderate to severe
In mild cases, symptoms include:
- feeling cold,
- low energy, or
- cold, pale skin
The symptoms of moderate hypothermia include:
- violent, uncontrollable shivering,
- being unable to think or pay attention,
- confusion (some people don't realise they are affected),
- loss of judgment and reasoning,
- difficulty moving around or stumbling (weakness),
- feeling afraid,
- memory loss,
- fumbling hands and loss of coordination,
- slurred speech,
- listlessness and indifference, or
- slow, shallow breathing and a weak pulse.
The symptoms of severe hypothermia include:
- loss of control of hands, feet, and limbs,
- uncontrollable shivering that suddenly stops,
- shallow or no breathing,
- weak, irregular or no pulse,
- stiff muscles, and
- dilated pupils.
- As hypothermia can be a life-threatening condition, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- Hypothermia is treated by preventing further heat being lost and by gently warming the patient.
Things to do for hypothermia
- Move the person indoors, or somewhere warm, as soon as possible.
- Once sheltered, gently remove any wet clothing and dry the person.
- Wrap them in blankets, towels, coats (whatever you have), protecting the head and torso first.
- Your own body heat can help someone with hypothermia. Hug them gently.
- Increase activity if possible, but not to the point where sweating occurs, as that cools the skin down again.
- If possible, give the person warm drinks (but not alcohol) or high energy foods, such as chocolate, to help warm them up.
- Once body temperature has increased, keep the person warm and dry.
It is important to handle anyone that has hypothermia very gently and carefully.
Things you should NOT do
- Don't warm up an elderly person using a bath, as this may send cold blood from the body's surfaces to the heart or brain too suddenly, causing a stroke or heart attack.
- Don't apply direct heat (hot water or a heating pad, for example) to the arms and legs, as this forces cold blood back to the major organs, making the condition worse.
- Don't give the person alcohol to drink, as this will decrease the body's ability to retain heat.
- Don't rub or massage the person's skin, as this can cause the blood vessels to widen and decrease the body's ability to retain heat. In severe cases of hypothermia there is also a risk of heart attack.
Severe hypothermia needs urgent medical treatment in hospital. Shivering is a good guide to how severe the hypothermia is. If the person can stop shivering of their own accord, hypothermia is mild, but if they cannot stop shivering, it is moderate to severe
Visit your GP regularly to manage any illnesses effectively. If you are taking regular medication, ask whether it affects your body's ability to regulate your temperature.
Choosing your health care
At this time of year, when NHS services are very busy, it's important to choose the right service. Choosing well will make sure that you receive the best possible treatment, leaving A&E and 999 for people who are badly injured or seriously ill.
By choosing the most appropriate service, you can help the NHS continue to cope with the challenges posed by the severe weather:
- Self-care - for minor illnesses, combine over-the-counter medicines with plenty of rest
- NHS Direct - can answer any health questions, around the clock, and help to find services. Call 0845 4647 or visit NHS Direct
- Pharmacist/chemist - for advice on illnesses and the right medicines
- GP - for medical advice, examinations and prescriptions for illnesses you can't shake off
- NHS walk-in centre - for treatment of minor illnesses or injuries, without an appointment
- Accident and emergency or 999 - only for critical or life-threatening situations
Catch it, Bin It, Kill it
People are being urged to follow good hygiene practices in order to protect themselves and minimise the spread of flu to others.
Flu is a preventable infectious disease, which means that nobody has to catch it, and good respiratory and hand hygiene is the easiest way of stopping it spreading.
And flu viruses are made up of tiny particles that can be spread through the droplets that come out of your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
Faisal Al Durrah, Consultant in Public Health Medicine for NHS South of Tyne and Wear, which covers Gateshead Primary Care Trust (PCT), South Tyneside PCT and Sunderland Teaching PCT, said: "We can all prevent the spread of flu by covering our nose and mouth when we sneeze, putting tissues in the bin and washing our hands regularly - in short, Catch it, Bin it, Kill it.
Stay at home until you are symptom free to prevent the spread of Norovirus
Meanwhile the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is urging people with vomiting or diarrhoea to stay away from work or school until they have been free of symptoms for 48 hours to help to limit the spread of the illness.
It is also important that people who have had the bug do not visit relatives in hospitals or care homes until they have been free of symptoms for 48 hours to avoid spreading the infection.
Most bouts of winter vomiting are caused by norovirus infection which is the most common cause of gastro-enteritis in England and Wales. It is estimated that norovirus affects between 600,000 and one million people in the United Kingdom every year.
Noroviruses cause a very unpleasant but generally short-lived illness from which people will usually recover without treatment. The main symptom is a sudden onset of vomiting, which can be projectile in nature, and is sometimes accompanied by diarrhoea. Some people may also have a raised temperature, headaches and aching limbs.
Dr Deb Wilson from the Health Protection Agency in the North East, said: "Norovirus is highly infectious and it can spread rapidly in semi-closed communities such as hospitals, care homes, sheltered housing accommodation and schools which is why people should stay away from work or school until they have been free of symptoms for 48 hours.
"Unfortunately there is no specific treatment for norovirus apart from letting the illness run its course but thankfully most people will make a full recovery within one to two days.
"People feel very unwell when they have a norovirus infection, but it is not usually necessary to seek medical advice unless symptoms persist for more than a few days. They should stay at home and take plenty of fluids until they are free of symptoms for 48 hours. If the illness persists for more than a few days, they should contact their family doctor by phone or take advice from NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or visiting www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk."
The Health Protection Agency's advice for patients who think they have norovirus or winter vomiting is:
- Do not visit your GP surgery or local A&E Unit. Norovirus infection is a self-limiting illness and you will recover naturally without treatment. It is, however, important to take plenty of drinks to replace lost fluids.
- If symptoms persist, ask for a telephone consultation with your family doctor.
- Use NHS Direct's new diarrhoea and vomiting online health and symptom checker, to get advice on how to manage your symptoms at home or help to access the most appropriate health service.
- Wash hands thoroughly and regularly at all times, but particularly after using the toilet and before eating.
- Do not visit friends or relatives in hospitals or residential care homes until you have fully recovered and been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours as there is a real risk that you would introduce the infection putting vulnerable people at risk.
- Stay away from work or school until you have fully recovered and been free of symptoms for 48 hours
- Do not handle or prepare food for other people until you have been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours.
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