Five simple steps to help you stay well this winter

Five simple steps to help you stay well this winter Blog Feature

It’s that time of year again – when the joy (and stress!) of Christmas is long gone, and yet winter is showing no signs of abating. If anything, the days are getting even colder and gloomier. This can bring new mental and physical health challenges with our mood being impacted by the reduction in sunlight, not to mention those lovely winter coughs and colds being shared around.

While we can’t control everything, there are some easy steps we can take that can help boost our chances of staying well, both physically and mentally.

Getting outdoors

There is a Scandinavian saying “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. While I think we certainly would have valid reason to argue in the UK that we have in fact experienced such a thing as ‘bad weather’, the saying makes a good point. With the right preparation and clothing, you don’t need to be waiting forever for that sunny day in order to get outside and reap the benefits of a bit of fresh (if a bit rainy) air.

We know that sunlight has a direct relationship with the levels of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) and melatonin (the sleeping hormone) in our body, which would explain why there is such an obvious link between spending time outdoors and feeling better and also sleeping better. Some studies even suggest that regular sunlight in people who are depressed can prevent cognitive decline1. Even the amount of (what can feel like mediocre) sunlight we get on cloudy days can have a positive impact.

If the idea of going for a walk doesn’t sound enticing enough on its own, why not get a friend to join you and multitask with a good catch up at the same time? Or download a podcast, audiobook or playlist to enjoy for any solo outings.

What is a sugar crash?

I don’t know about you, but when working from home with the biscuit tin in view, it can be hard to ignore the frequent urges to snack. While it’s easy to reach for wrapped treats, it is helpful to know that when we eat these types of foods our blood sugar rapidly rises. Our body then releases more insulin in response, which leads to our sugar levels rapidly dropping – hence the term ‘sugar crash’. You may be familiar with symptoms of these crashes – irritability, tremors, brain fog, hunger and general grumpiness.

A quick fix of course is to get someone to hide the biscuit tin! A more long-term solution though could be getting other snacks in that aren’t so sugary. Nuts and seeds are a great option – they are high in protein and often high also in fibre, meaning that they can give you energy without the same sort of insulin release and resultant drop in sugar levels.

Or, if you feel like you need to be munching on something while you work, why not keep some gum at your home desk? (Just be warned this can have a natural laxative effect, depending on how much you get through!)

Top up that Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an important role in helping our bodies absorb calcium and thereby in helping to keep our teeth, muscles and bones healthy. Symptoms of deficiencies can include feeling tired all the time or having general aches and pains.

There are two ways that we can increase our Vitamin D levels – through our diet and through exposure of our skin to natural sunlight. I think we’d all like a lovely sunny holiday right now but unfortunately that’s unlikely for most! Therefore, it’s recommended that through October to March, adults and children over 4 years old in the UK should take a 10 microgram Vitamin D supplement daily2.

And of course, there are naturally good sources of Vitamin D as well, such as:

  • Oily Fish such as sardines, tuna, trout, salmon or mackerel
  • Red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Liver
  • Fortified breakfast bars or cereals.

If you’re interested in knowing what your Vitamin D level is, CheckUp Health are now offering various health checks that can be done with a finger prick test from the comfort of your own home, including Vitamin D levels – see our home page for details.

How much should I drink every day?

The answer of course will be influenced by factors such as whether you are losing extra fluids (e.g., through sweat or a tummy bug) or have a medical condition that affects how your body handles fluids (e.g., certain kidney and heart conditions). But as a rough guide, most adults should aim to drink 6-8 glasses a day.

A good way to check if you are getting enough to drink is by paying close attention next time you visit the toilet. Fluids we drink get absorbed through our gut into our blood stream. Our kidneys then decide how much fluid to filter out of the blood and into the urine. When we are drinking enough, the kidneys pass on a lot of fluids out through the urine, where dilutes down the other bits that our body is getting rid of (a bit like making a dilute squash drink) hence the lighter colour. Conversely, if we don’t drink enough, the kidneys have to keep most of the fluids in the blood and out of the urine, hence the darker colour and smaller volume passed when we are dehydrated. For those interested, you can find a handy chart to assess your hydration status here3.

It is especially important to be aware of how hydrated you are when you are fighting an infection. Whether it is caused by a bacterium or a virus, your body is particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of dehydration at these times, such as kidney damage. Plus, being dehydrated tends to make you feel even worse even without being ill on top. Hence the advice of doctors everywhere to have plenty of fluids when you are ill.

Is social networking good for you?

With all of the literal and metaphorical social distancing and social isolation that we’ve endured in the last 2 years, it is probably appropriate to focus for a minute on our real-world social connections. There is actually tons of evidence for how good relationships can impact our physical and mental health4. Take, for example, a nine-year follow up study of about 7,000 adults in California which showed that people who had more social and community ties were over twice as likely to still be alive in the follow up period than those who didn’t. This is even after correcting for confounding factors such as socioeconomic status, obesity, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption5.

A good example of the mental health benefits of having good relationships is the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This examined the lives of some 260 people over almost 80 years. It showed that number one predictor of a long and happy life was not cholesterol or blood pressure or some other physical finding, but simply having close relationships with others6.

So, meeting up with or connecting virtually with close friends has a lot of scientifically measurable benefits even over and above your immediate enjoyment. For anyone who has been feeling a bit more isolated lately, I hope this is motivation to reach out and make plans to catch up with that person you’ve not spoken to for a while.

Hopefully with the above steps, you’ll manage to stay on top of your physical and mental health this winter. If you do have any health concerns though, know that we have great GPs available and ready to talk.

Download the CheckUp Health app now and book a video or audio call with a private GP, daytime or evening, 7 days/week. Take control of your health.


  1. Kent ST, McClure LA, Crosson WL, Arnett DK, Wadley VG, Sathiakumar N. Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study. Environ Health. 2009;8:34. Published 2009 Jul 28. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-34
  4. Umberson D, Montez JK. Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51 Suppl(Suppl):S54-S66. doi:10.1177/0022146510383501
  5. Berkman Lisa F, Syme Leonard. Social Networks, Host Resistance, and Mortality: A Nine-Year Follow-up Study of Alameda County Residents. American Journal of Epidemiology. 1979;117:1003–1009

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