Skip to content

Winter Health

Published on 05 December 2023 09:13 AM

Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough calls on everyone to look out for their older family members and friends this wintertime.

We are supporting our partners and the national charity, Age UK, in raising awareness about the impact colder weather can have on older people and what can be done to help to stay well.  

For many older people this winter is shaping up to be a real challenge because of the multiple threats to health and wellbeing. Flu, Covid-19 and other winter bugs are circulating widely and even though cold temperatures are on the way, we know lots of older people are reducing their energy usage in order to control their bills as the cost of living continues to rise.

With so many people facing such worrying problems again this winter, Age UK and local partner charities, are appealing to the public to keep supporting the older people in their lives and to stay in touch, to ensure they are managing to keep warm and eat well, despite soaring prices.

“With energy bills and the cost of living increasing it is understandable that many older people might think they have no option but to turn their heating off this winter. However, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can have a substantial impact on older people’s health.

Effects of Cold Weather on Older People’s Health

Cold weather can have serious consequences for older people’s health, and those with pre-existing illnesses such as heart or lung conditions are particularly at risk. Changes to our bodies as we age, such as loss of muscle mass, make it harder for our bodies to regulate temperature making us more vulnerable to the effects of cold temperatures.

The body responds to cold temperatures in a number of ways.

It constricts blood flow to extremities and can reduce flow to the brain. Evidence shows that exposure to cold reduces physical strength, balance and walking speed in older adults [ii], impacting on their ability to manage everyday tasks and increasing the risk of falls and other accidents.

It also increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood thickness raising the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other blood clots.[iii] This means the effects of cold are particularly serious for people living with pre-existing conditions or risk factors – the likelihood of which also increases significantly with age.

Winter weather brings a range of other risks too. Cold air is associated with the exacerbation of coughing and breathing difficulties for those living with respiratory conditions, as well as greater circulation of seasonal respiratory infections[iv]. Many people also report aggravated symptoms of musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis in winter, particularly pain.

Prolonged exposure to the cold – chronic cold – is particularly harmful. Evidence shows that spending extended periods of time in temperatures below 18C are enough to trigger the health impacts of cold[v]. This includes living in a cold home. Older people are likely to spend more time at home than other age groups and being able to adequately heat their home to a minimum of 18C is vital in sustaining their health and wellbeing.  

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's Charity Director, said: “With energy bills and the cost of living increasing it is understandable that many older people might think they have no option but to turn their heating off this winter. However, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can have a substantial impact on older people’s health.

“During the winter older people are likely to spend more time at home than other age groups and are much more susceptible to the effects of the cold, particularly if they have pre-existing medical conditions. That’s why it’s so important that they can adequately heat their homes, helping them to stay well. 

“The winter can have an adverse impact on older people’s mental health too. Darker, shorter days and less socialising place older people at greater risk of loneliness and isolation, which in turn can cause new mental health conditions like anxiety and depression to develop, as well as exacerbating any existing ones. 

“So as winter bites it is important to take action to protect yourself if you are an older person, and it’s a reminder to the rest of us to look out for the older people in our lives”.

Five Top Tips for Keeping Healthy During Winter

Make sure your home is warm enough.

Make sure the heating is on to reach a comfortable level, high enough to stay warm at home.  Only heating the rooms you use, turning off radiators in rooms you don’t and closing doors will help save energy and keep costs down. Closing curtains when it gets dark is also a good way to keep rooms warmer and draft free. If you are concerned about unaffordable energy bills Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough may be able to suggest additional sources of help. Call us on 0300 666 9860. If you reach our answerphone, please leave a message and we will get back to you

Keep moving
There are lots of benefits to moving more during winter and it’s also a good way of keeping warm too, so try not to sit still for more than an hour at a time. Depending on your health, this may mean doing some gentle chair exercises or stretching. If the cold weather is preventing you from getting out and about as much as you usually would, keeping moving or taking up indoor exercises can help maintain strength and mobility.

If you're not sure where to start, or you have a long-term condition that makes moving more difficult, we have advice and tips on how you can get active in a way that works for you. Find out more about how to get active . For advice for all exercise abilities visit:

Eat well and stay hydrated
Eating well is important to keep our strength up, hot food and hot drinks can help us to stay warm. Try to have at least one hot meal a day and hot drinks, make sure that you drink at least six to eight cups or glasses of fluid per day to keep hydrated.

A nutrient rich diet becomes more important as we age, it will help keep our muscles, bones and joints strong. This means trying to eat food that contains more protein, for example, chicken, eggs, cheese, full fat milk, and nuts, but try and get a range of different foods in your diet if you can.

A good tip is to make sure that you have food for at least three days in your cupboards, freezer and fridge, so that you can make a meal if you can't get out to the shops due to illness or bad weather.

The main thing to remember is that it's better to eat a bit of what you fancy than to eat nothing at all – even if it's just a slice of cake.

Wrap up well and stay stocked up
Wearing plenty of layers is the best way to keep warm in winter. If you're heading out, make sure you take some extra layers – even if you don’t need them immediately. It's a good idea to be prepared because the temperature can drop significantly when the sun goes in.

Mental Health and Wellbeing
Many people find their mood is lower during winter. Common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression may feel harder to manage in winter.

Loneliness and social isolation are year-round problems, but winter can be a particularly difficult time as weather conditions, shorter days and changes in older people’s health and wellbeing can make it harder to keep up social connections.

Keeping our minds active and staying social is a great way to support our wellbeing. Keeping up our hobbies and interests and doing the things we enjoy is really important for mental health when the temperature drops outside.

It's also a good idea to stock up on cold and sore throat remedies, too. Your pharmacist can give you advice on what might help if you're feeling under the weather.

The How Are You (HAY) Cambridgeshire and Peterborough website has information about activities across the county, which can help you to keep active and enjoy the company of others.