Winter can be a season of isolation for our most vulnerable community members. It’s also been found that after a cold snap, rates of strokes and heart attacks tend to rise. However, winter doesn’t have to be dark and depressing. By making sure you and your neighbours stay cosy and connected, the colder months need not feel so bleak.
Stay Cosy in the Cold
Cold weather can have effects on heart health, especially for those living with a heart condition. In colder temperatures, especially those below 8 degrees Celsius, your heart has to work harder to keep you warm, which can increase your blood pressure and heart rate. These changes may trigger symptoms of an existing heart condition, as well as increasing some people’s risk of heart attacks, strokes or pneumonia.
Winter also ups your chances of getting sick, especially with influenza. This can be a more dangerous illness for those with already existing heart conditions, as it puts extra strain on the heart. If you’re 65 and over, pregnant, or have a long term health condition, you can get vaccinated against the flu for free at your local practice with your nurse or GP. If you start feeling sick, don’t hesitate to go to your pharmacist for advice about flu and other minor ailments.
You can also keep warm this winter and protect yourself from the cold by following these key tips:
- Make sure your home is insulated to keep the heat in. You can find ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency and potentially help with your energy bills on the UK government website.There are several financial help schemes available including the Winter Fuel payment for older people, and the Cold Weather payment for those in areas with temperatures dropping below zero degrees.
- Keep your home heated to at least 18 degrees in winter.
- Be aware of the weather before you head outside. You can keep an eye out for severe weather warnings on the Met Office website, to avoid the worst weather.
- Wrap up in several thin, warm layers rather than one big one – this keeps the heat in better.
- Wear a hat and scarf outside to avoid losing heat from your head and neck.
- Keep moving – staying active helps to warm you up from the inside
- Stay cosy with some warming winter cooking and drinks- try out BBC Good Food’s collection of healthy winter warmers.
Cold and Loneliness in Winter
The health implications of loneliness have been gaining attention recently, with research highlighting that socially isolated older people have as much as a 30% higher rate of mortality than those with more friends and connections.
Winter can also be hard for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)- a type of depression triggered during the winter months. It’s thought that SAD is caused by the shorter daylight hours in winter causing the body to produce different levels of hormones, causing sufferers to feel down. Light therapy is one option for treating SAD, along with eating well and staying active, maintaining good levels of self care.
Winter tends to be isolating for those with already limited social networks and mobility, particularly older people. Snowy winter weather might stop people driving or risking a slip on icy pavements, keeping them indoors.
With this in mind one of the best things we can do during the winter is to reach out to our friends and neighbours.
Connecting in the Cold
Instinctively, we want to curl up under a blanket and stay at home in the winter. However, it’s important to remember the importance of reaching out for both you and your community. Elderly friends and family will likely be feeling the chill over the winter months and an offer of fetching their shopping, inviting them over for dinner or just simply visiting to enjoy each other’s company can be a huge help. If you know of people with mobility issues or health conditions, making sure they’ve got a stock of food and other essentials to last through any cold snaps is a great idea.
Loneliness becomes an even bigger issue over the Christmas period as those without family and friends can be left feeling more isolated and alone than ever, so help and kindness around this time of year goes a long way.
If you have concerns about an elderly neighbour or friend, you can contact the Age UK helpline on 0800-678-1174 (8am-7pm daily) for advice. You can also contact the local council in your area for help.
To ensure you’re keeping connected, it’s great to get out as much as you can and keep up with your regular social events despite the chill. You can combine these with outreach to others for the ultimate in feel-good winter warmth. Try helping others stay warm this winter by donating old winter coats and good-quality layers to homeless shelters, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Staying cosy and connected this winter is amazing for your health and your community.