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Stay healthy in winter

As we get older, changes to our bodies mean that cold weather and winter bugs affect us more than they used to.

But what's changed, and why does it mean we're more likely to get sick over winter? Let's explore how ageing affects our body's responses - and what we can do to keep healthy.  

Our immune system doesn’t function as well as we age

Our immune system helps us fight off germs and infections.

Colds, flu and pneumonia are all more common in winter. It doesn’t have to be a cold winter for seasonal viruses such as flu, colds, and norovirus to spread. Last year over 60% of cases of flu that needed hospital treatment were in people over 65. So it's a good idea to take extra steps to avoid a nasty illness.

What you can do 

Get your free flu jab – even if you're fighting fit

Everyone aged 65 and over is entitled to a free flu jab from the doctor or pharmacist. The vaccines for this age group has an agent in which helps to boost your immune system’s response to the vaccine. Even if you’re fit and healthy, it’s a great idea to get the jab to help protect yourself and others.

If you care for someone aged 65 or over, or are a frontline care worker, you should think about vaccinating yourself against the flu too.

Read more about flu and why the jab's important

Ask about the pneumo jab

There's a vaccine for pneumonia too. Check if you're eligible when you get your flu jab.

Wash your hands regularly

Simple but effective – washing your hands helps step germs spreading.

Stock up on cold and sore throat remedies

Your pharmacist can give you advice if you're feeling under the weather.

Top tip: Get your flu jab every year

Flu viruses are always changing, so you need a jab every year, using the latest vaccine. Flu isn’t only unpleasant, it can also develop into pneumonia, which can be serious.

The cold puts more pressure on our hearts and circulatory systems

As we get older, our body has to work harder to keep us warm.

If you're exposed to a cold environment for a long time, or in extreme cold for only a short time, your blood pressure rises and your blood thickens. This can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

What you can do 

Wrap up well when you go out in the cold

Layering's the best way to keep warm in winter. Don't forget a hat, gloves, thick socks and a scarf.

Read our top tips for keeping your hands and feet warm

Make sure your home is warm enough

Try to heat your home to a steady and comfortable temperature throughout the day, we recommend a minimum of 18°C (64°F).

Having trouble heating your home?

Get help with heating costs

Find out if your local Age UK can support you

Top tip: A scarf can help you breathe easy

Try wrapping a scarf around your face before you go out in the cold. It'll warm up the cold air before you breathe it in, reducing the risk of chest infections.

Changes to our bodies as we age can mean it's harder to keep warm

If you find you feel the cold more than you used to, that's totally normal. 

From about the age of 55, we lose around 1% of our muscle mass every year. It doesn't sound a lot, but muscle is what keeps us warm. 

Some people experience frailty as they age, which can mean it is more difficult to move around and minor illnesses can knock you for six. If you are living with frailty it is important to understand what frailty means for you and how you can build resilience. 

What you can do 

Keep moving

Try not to sit still for more than one hour at a time. Even if just move your arms and legs, it'll help keep you warm.

If you are not sure where to start, or find it difficult to move more because of a long-term condition, have a look at our being active pages for advice and tips. 

We've looked into the best ways to support people to become more active as they get older. Take a look at what we found. 

Eat well

During winter, aim for at least one hot meal every day as well as warm drinks throughout the day.

Read our section on healthy eating to find out how to maintain a healthy diet throughout the year.

If you've recently lost weight without meaning to or have a smaller appetite than usual, find out why this might be and what you can do to help.

Top tip: Try our winter warmer recipes

From fish pie to a hearty stew, these tasty dishes are sure to fuel your fire!

Download our free guide

Our Winter wrapped up guide has lots of useful information to help you stay well through winter.

We're here to help

You can order printed copies of any of our guides and factsheets by calling our advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also offer support and specialist advice through the advice line and at over 130 local Age UKs.

The development of this informational webpage and video was supported by an educational grant from Seqirus.

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Last updated: Aug 19 2020

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