THE BLOG

We Need to Take Control of Our Health This Winter - Easy Steps to Helping Yourself and the NHS

16/11/2015 14:10 GMT | Updated 16/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Winter puts enormous pressure on the NHS as common mild infections spread rapidly and demand for healthcare soars.

But there is much that we can do in starting to take control of our own health in order to help stay well against the challenges of winter. Protecting our valuable health services is something every one of us can help contribute to, even in small ways. It stops minor ailments clogging up precious out of hour's services and can even prevent us from becoming unwell in the first place.

So what do we need to do?

Protect yourself

Infections are one of the top risks to UK health. It may seem obvious, but washing your hands is literally the easiest way of staving off many viruses over the winter. The majority of us don't do it enough, limiting efforts to after using the toilet.

Hot and cramped with thousands of passengers every day, public transport is basically match.com for bacteria. It's vital that you wash your hands or use an alcohol hand gel as soon as you can afterwards to remove bugs picked up from surfaces others have been in contact with. Before mealtimes is also a key moment, as ingesting germs is the fastest way to catch norovirus infections resulting in diarrhoea and vomiting that quickly spread to those around us.

Taking responsibility for our health also means looking at what we eat - you can help build a strong immune defence by packing your diet full of fruit and vegetables - and with these essential vitamins and minerals. Supplements are also handy if you're particularly deficient in one vitamin or another (but cannot act as a substitute for a healthy diet).

People also tend to underestimate the value of good mental health, particularly during the dark months of winter. However, a positive outlook can work wonders, motivating you to think healthily and take the steps to keep physically healthy too.

It might be grim outside, but it's important to take in winter sunlight when you can, boosting levels of Vitamin D and taking the opportunity for exercise, even it's just a light walk. The social calendar can lull early in the year, but marking out time to spend with friends and family is also key to fighting the winter blues.

If you get ill

And what if you do get sick? Heading straight to the GP for a prescription is often far from the solution - listening to the advice given by doctors and nurses, rather than demanding antibiotics, is key to reducing the numbers of antibiotics we prescribe and limiting the escalation of antibiotic resistance.

Pharmacies are a vital resource as they not only have a wide range of remedies for cold and flu symptoms, but also a team of experts on hand to let you know which is most suitable. They can also advise on whether you do actually need a GP appointment.

It's also important to prevent spreading infections from person to person. Diarrhoea and vomiting infections such as norovirus can be highly contagious so whilst you are unwell avoid contact with others wherever possible. Likewise, colds and flu spread easily so consider others, and use tissues to wipe your nose or sneeze into, making sure you dispose of these promptly and wash your hands afterwards.

While you may think you should make the effort to go to work or send your children to school, close working spaces like offices and classrooms provide a thriving environment for winter illness. It's generally better for everyone if you stay at home until your symptoms have cleared.

Helping others stay well

While the cold can have an effect on even the healthiest person, older people are particularly susceptible to illness and often feel isolated and depressed during the winter months.

If you have neighbours, friends or family who are elderly, you can make a real difference by helping out during winter, whether it's with shopping, days out or even just popping round. If they do get ill, older people can need help accessing health services and can really benefit from having someone close by they can call on in an emergency.

Of course if you are in need of health services during the winter, the NHS is there to deliver the best care possible. But you can help them be ready for those really in need, by helping yourself and others to stay fit and healthy. By working with health care teams to boost Britain's health, we can all do our part in lessening the pressure on the NHS this coming winter.