Easing Winter Aches and Pains


Sad Mature Woman Looking Out Of Window

Feeling run down can happen at any time during the year, but in the cold and wet months of the winter you may find it harder to cope with. From coughs and colds to joint pain and feelings of depression, winter can drum up all kinds of illnesses.

So the experts from AXA PPP healthcare have come up with some tips for staying healthy and happier this winter…

Winter Blues

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are similar to other types of depression, but they occur during the onset of autumn and get worse as winter progresses in response to the amount of sunlight decreasing. Most people with SAD return to normal as spring and summer approach.

As with other forms of depression, the main symptoms include a low mood and a loss of pleasure or interest in normal, everyday activities. Some people with SAD experience recurring episodes of unipolar depression (solely depressive symptoms), while others may find they experience mild episodes of bipolar depression (periods of lows followed by manic periods where you feel euphoric and abnormally energetic).

Loneliness

According to Age UK, more than 1 million people will go for a month at a time without speaking to anyone. However, it’s not just the elderly who experience loneliness during winter – it is an issue that can affect the physical and mental wellbeing of any of us.

Loneliness and isolation can have a massive impact on your mental health. It can make you feel more stressed, lower your self-esteem and have a negative impact on your overall wellbeing.

However, it is important to remember you are not alone in feeling like this, especially over winter, and there are several steps which you can take to overcome loneliness. Reach out to the people you feel you are closest to – they can’t help if they don’t know there is a problem. Try saying yes to social opportunities, too, even if you really don’t feel like it at first.

Volunteering can also help you connect with like-minded groups which you may not have previously known about, and give you a real sense of fulfilment too.

Hand and Foot Pain

Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful in winter, although there is no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage. Another painful condition that flares up in cold weather is Reynaud’s. This affects your fingers and toes, and makes the blood vessels under your skin go into a temporary spasm in reaction to the cold, cutting off normal blood flow.

Daily exercise such as swimming – which is also easy on the joints – can boost both your mental and physical state.

Smiling mature woman at the edge of a swimming pool

Swimming can help improve your physical and mental health. Picture: Istockphoto

Flu

Flu is among the most infectious and common viral winter illnesses spread by coughs and sneezes. Symptoms tend to be more severe and last for longer than the common cold. You can catch flu all year round, but it is especially common in winter.

For many the best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help lower a high temperature and relieve aches.

Norovirus

Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places such as hotels and schools. Young children and the elderly are especially at risk.

The illness is unpleasant, but it’s usually over within a couple of days. If you are unwell with vomiting and diarrhoea, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Oral rehydration fluids (available from pharmacies) can also reduce the risk of dehydration.

Sore Throat

Sore throats are common in winter and are almost always caused by viral infections. There’s some evidence that changes in temperature, such as going from a warm, centrally heated room to the icy outdoors, can also affect the throat.

One quick and easy remedy for relieving the symptoms of a sore throat is to gargle with warm, salty water. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of part-cooled boiled water.

Exercise Injuries

Woman in sports gear and woolly hat, stretching in a park, early morning light

Particularly in cold weather, only stretch once you are warmed up! Picture: Istockphoto

Don’t let the cold weather put you off exercise – wrap up warm and be careful if it’s wet or icy. But when the temperature drops, it is important to spend extra time warming up properly before exercising to help prevent injuries and increase your flexibility.

Start with either a gentle walk or march on the spot. Do this for a couple of minutes, then increase the intensity a little. If you are walking, walk a little faster and really move your arms. For marching on the spot, march faster and add some arm circles. Continue doing this for a couple more minutes or until you feel warm.

The last part of your warm-up is to stretch. This should only ever be done once you are warm, as you can cause an injury if you stretch a muscle when it’s cold.

Remember AXA PPP healthcare’s expert nurses are on hand to help you with information about your ailments. Simply visit the Ask The Expert hub to ask a question.

Read more health advice or see opportunities for volunteering

Sarah Proctor

I've worked in the media ever since leaving university, on a variety of regional newspapers and national magazines. My Weekly is a fantastic, warm-hearted brand with an amazing, talented team. I'm a sub-editor and particularly love working on fiction and the advice pages - I feel I know all the secrets of eternal life, health and happiness by now, but hey, we all need that weekly reminder!