Winter health during coronavirus

Keeping healthy during winter is always a challenge, however, this year will be particularly difficult with the coronavirus pandemic. Medichecks head of clinical excellence Dr Natasha Fernando offers some advice on how to look after both physical and mental health this winter.

Dr Natasha Fernando

Thu Dec 03 2020

Winter is looming just around the corner and we all know it is going to be anything but average this year. Some of us are fearing the worst, speculating how the next wave of coronavirus is going to impact our physical health and mental wellbeing. These concerns can be indeed be justified as colder darker days are less conducive to lower risk outdoor social meetups. As flu season approaches, it is also likely coronavirus transmission will thrive in the same way if we do not continue to be precautious. 

Last year an ordinary sniffle, tickly cough or a low-grade fever would often be frowned upon for taking time off work. Now you are effectively criminalised for popping out of the house with these symptoms! The overlap between symptoms of covid19 and a less serious viral illness such as cold or flu makes matters less straight forward, but we can seek comfort that the vast majority do not deteriorate to the point of needing hospital admission. There are however a few symptoms which are more unique to covid19 such as loss of taste or smell, but it is important to note that not everyone gets these symptoms. Most importantly to minimise distress and protect our general sanity, it is best not to panic about every symptom being due to coronavirus – just self-isolate and get tested if you are having new fever, cough, or loss of smell/taste.

For the above-mentioned reasons of minimising distress caused by flu symptoms it may be worthwhile considering a flu vaccination. Although this vaccination does not necessarily protect everyone, it provides immunity for many and if there is high coverage, this promotes herd immunity, hence reducing the circulating flu virus in the population. This will particularly important to protect those most at risk of severe illness and even death. 

Other than the obvious measures of keeping covid19 safe, there are several other ways we can all proactively optimise our health and wellbeing this winter.

Take vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D is important for immunity, bone & muscle health as well as energy levels. The UK sunlight does not contain enough UVB radiation in the months of October to March for our skin to synthesise vitamin D. Public Health England therefore recommends that everyone in the UK over the age of 5 should consider taking a supplement containing at least 400 units (10 micrograms) of vitamin D during these months. Vitamin D can also be obtained in less reliable amounts from dietary sources such as oily fish, eggs, mushrooms, fortified milks, cereals & tofu.

Eat well

Incorporate plenty of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables as part of your balanced diet. A nutritious diet rich in antioxidants can help improve immune function and maintain energy levels for wellness.

Keep active

As much as we are all aware of the proven physical and mental health benefits of exercise, many of us struggle more to motivate ourselves during the winter months. Use the cold weather to motivate yourself to do a warming high intensity run, even if it is just for a few minutes or enjoy a more leisurely scenic countryside muddy walk in your wellies and waterproofs. If you are more of an indoorsy person, consider doing YouTube workouts at home. You can also partner with a virtual gym buddy to keep yourself continually motivated. 

Doing moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes per week is proven to demonstrate significant health benefits, if you find it is difficult to incorporate 150 minutes per week you could consider doing 75 minutes of high intensity vigorous exercise instead. This is the level of exercise where you heart is beating a lot faster and you are unable to talk at ease in sentences. It is most important your try to do an exercise you really do enjoy doing so that you will keep on doing it with pleasure.

Never compromise on sleep

We often ignore how important this is, but good quality sleep has long term impacts on our physical health, improves our mental wellbeing, and helps to support the immune system. Thankfully winter gives us the perfect opportunity to have early nights. Try and maintain regular hours, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even during the weekends. Ensure you have a relaxing bedtime routine, dimming the lights & avoiding blue light from screen time an hour before sleep to help boost your brain’s melatonin release.


Be attentive to your mental wellbeing

Some of us do have difficulty staying upbeat as soon as the sun stops shining during the winter. Most of us at some point during the pandemic have been affected by all sorts of feelings and reactions of anxiety. Mental health professionals are now witnessing covid19 anxiety developing into depression due to learned helplessness. Many now struggle with reduced social interaction, whilst others are in deep worry about their job and financial security. Anxiety and depression can be quite debilitating and even have negative implications on your immune system. It is therefore important to prioritise your mental well-being and the following tips may help:

-    Keep things in perspective by lessening the time you watch upsetting media coverage/read provoking social media posts. Focus on the things that are positive in your life & things you have control over. 

-    Practice mindfulness & acceptance, spending most of your time focusing on the "here & now" rather than the "why?" or catastrophically thinking "oh no, what's next?"

-    Focus on rationally thinking about how you will deal with issues & engage in active problem solving, rather than ruminating your emotions.

-    Keep socially connected with your loved ones through telephone & video calls and embrace lots of humour in your conversations. You could even have a Zoom game or movie night. Being alone does not have to mean being in isolation, in the same way physical distancing does not mean emotional distancing.

-    Focus on doing things you enjoy whether its listening to your favourite music, doing a hobby or reading a book.

-    Practice a mindset of gratitude as this can help rewire your brain to look at the world in a different way. Begin each day thinking about 3 things you are grateful for and end each day thinking about 3 things that went well. 

-    Be aware of how your body's reactions to emotion can reinforce anxiety. Breathe deeply, meditate if you wish, take a walk outside & immerse yourself in the beauty of nature around you.

How Medichecks can help

Medichecks offer a variety of tests to support winter health, looking at markers such as vitamin D, B12, iron and hormones to support mood, energy and overall health. We also offer testing for businesses including healthcare practitioners and corporate services. If you are interested get in touch at