21/02/2017 17:21 GMT

5 Lessons Learned From 'Staying Healthy: A Doctor's Guide' On Channel 4

It's an education in how to stay healthy.

If you’re struggling to steer clear of the office lurgy - or any other virus, for that matter - then Channel 4’s ‘Staying Healthy: A Doctor’s Guide’ should certainly pique your interest. 

In the show, Dr Pixie McKenna analyses the common ailments that hit the nation hard in 2016 and talks about what we can do to prevent them from happening again this year. 

From preventing coughs and colds, to combatting sleep deprivation and high cholesterol, here are five lessons we learned from the show:  

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1. Hand-Washing Is SO Important In Tackling Coughs And Colds

At the start of last year, doctors saw 80,000 people a week in England because of coughs and colds. According to Dr McKenna, chilly weather helps these germs circulate and the spread is amplified even more by the fact that kids head back to school after the Christmas break.

The TV doctor teamed up with leading expert in winter bugs, Professor Wendy Berkley. Together, they headed into a classroom of young children and sprayed fake germs around (in a similar way to how they’d spread through sneezing).

When we sneeze, we eject up to 40,000 droplets of liquid, mucus, viruses and bacteria, which can spread as far as eight metres. Needless to say, at the end of the day, the children were covered in fake germs.

A UV light revealed that pretty much all of the children had the fake germs on their hands, with some showing signs of them on their faces. Unsurprisingly, a lot of children then put their hands in their mouths, noses and even their eyes, which would, in other circumstances, transmit real germs into their bodies. 

Cold viruses can survive on the hands for up to an hour and when they find their way into the body they quickly start to multiply.

Dr McKenna noted that teaching kids to wash their hands is essential to keeping illness at bay. She added that adults could learn a thing or two about hand-sanitisation, especially as one in 10 don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet.

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2. You Can Get A Sugar Fix Healthily

One in four adults is now obese and it’s costing our country £27billion each year.

To tackle the growing epidemic, the government introduced a tax on soft drinks to prevent people from buying them and encourage companies to lower the amount of sugar in their drinks. 

According to Dr McKenna, cola drinks contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can, while cloudy lemon drinks have up to 11 teaspoons and premium ginger beers contain up to 13 teaspoons of sugar.

She recommended cutting down on the cakes and fizzy drinks and getting your sugar fix through dark chocolate instead, as it’s supposedly much better for health thanks to the flavanols it contains.

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3. Sleep Should Be Your Top Priority This Year

When the clocks change come springtime, our bodies suffer.

According to sleep expert Professor Russell Foster, “we’re being forced out of bed when our body is not prepared for it”.

“In addition, most of us are sleep-deprived, so we’ve shortened our sleep even further,” he added.

Sleep deprivation is the second most common health complaint in UK.

When the clock’s change, experts see a rise in accidents and there are also lots of emotional problems reported, linked to lack of sleep. 

Night shift work is similarly disruptive to health, but on a larger scale. “Even after a few days of sleep disruption, the ability to process information is impaired,” explained Professor Foster.

Long-term consequences of night shift work can include higher rates of cardiovascular disease and infection, as well as a greater risk of developing cancer.

So what’s the solution? “Sleep is so important and needs to be prioritised,” said Professor Foster. So get an early night, avoid that extra coffee first thing and make a good night’s sleep your top priority in 2017.

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4. You Don’t Need To Rely On Pills To Lower Your Cholesterol 

Analysing data from 2016, Dr McKenna discovered that the top three treatments that were prescribed in 2016 were: 

1. Statins for lowering cholesterol

2. Acid reflux / heartburn medicine

3. Treatment for underactive thyroid

While many people rely on statins to help lower cholesterol, there are other ways to reduce the problem. Living a healthy lifestyle, exercising, quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol can all contribute to lowering cholesterol, explained Dr McKenna. 

She added that people associate cholesterol with increased weight, but actually, that’s not true. Over half of adults in the UK have raised cholesterol and you can’t tell who they are by looking. 

So if you’re worried that yours might be higher than normal, the only way to know for sure is by being tested at the doctor’s. 

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5. Mosquito Repellent Really Works

Many of us will go on holiday and avoid buying mozzie repellant because a small part of us believes it doesn’t actually work. But that theory was proven well and truly wrong by an expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

When Dr McKenna was asked to place her arm into a box full of hungry mosquitoes, they immediately descended and fed on her blood.

But when she put 50% Deet repellant on her skin, not one of them dropped down to feed. The difference in behaviour was startling.

While some people believe that high percentage Deets are dangerous, that’s actually not true, experts said. They advised the public to use repellant with between 20-50% Deet for maximum effects. 

Channel 4’s ‘Staying Healthy: A Doctor’s Guide’ airs at 10pm on Tuesday 21 February.