As winter draws near, older people in New Zealand need to ensure they are prepared for the chilly season, particularly given the heightened prevalence of influenza and pneumonia during this period. Taking a proactive approach to protecting your health and overall well-being during the winter months is crucial.

Here are our top 10 tips to help you prepare for winter:

  1. Get a flu shot

Older individuals are more at risk from the flu, particularly in winter. Getting vaccinated against influenza is the most efficient way of protecting yourself. With flu being more prominent from June to September, it is crucial to receive the vaccine before winter begins. The flu shot is free for those aged 65 and over in New Zealand, as well as individuals with underlying health conditions like heart disease, cancer, asthma, or diabetes.

  1. Support your mental health

Winter can affect your mental health, especially for those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs due to the reduced sunlight of the winter months. It is essential that you prioritise your mental health by doing self-care activities such as reading, listening to music, or taking a relaxing bath. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, speak with your GP as soon as possible.

  1. Stay connected

Older people may be prone to experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation, during the winter months, especially if they are unable to leave the house or engage in community activities. Maintaining regular contact with loved ones helps with your mental health and overall well-being. Utilising technology such as video calls, social media, or emails can help you to engage with others and helps you to feel connected. Alternatively, you may find that participating in community activities or joining social groups to meet new people may help prevent feelings of isolation. If you are unable to get out and about on your own, community transportation services are available to help you.

  1. Maintain healthy eating habits

Consuming healthy food is crucial for maintaining good health and preventing illness. Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet during winter is essential as they are high in immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals. In the colder months, eating protein-rich foods such as lean meats, fish, and legumes can help maintain energy. Ensure that you maintain your calorie intake during winter as this preserves body fat levels, which helps to keep you warm. Additionally, consuming hot meals like porridge/oatmeal and soup are not only comforting, but they provide warmth too.

  1. Stay hydrated

Maintaining proper hydration is crucial for health and disease prevention. In the winter, it can be simple to overlook the significance of consuming sufficient fluids, but it’s vital to remain hydrated. Regularly drinking water throughout the day as well as trying herbal tea, and other non-caffeinated beverages can help in keeping the body hydrated.

  1. Keep warm

As we get older, it can be increasingly difficult to maintain body temperature as we lose body heat faster and this can make us more vulnerable to hypothermia. Keeping warm is essential during winter, both inside and out of the house. Warm clothing, especially layers can help you retain body temperature as well as using a blanket to wrap over your legs when you sit down. You also need to ensure that your home is properly heated and that you wear appropriate clothing when you leave the house such as coats, hats, scarves and gloves.

  1. Spend time outside

The shorter days experienced during winter and the reduced sunlight can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D which is vital for bone health and immune function. To boost your levels of Vitamin D, try spending a little bit of time each day enjoying the sunshine, even if it is just for a few minutes. Vitamin D supplements may also help to combat a deficiency but make sure you speak with your GP before starting to take supplements.

  1. Keep moving

Maintaining physical exercise even in the winter helps support physical health, especially when you are spending longer inside due to the weather conditions. Staying active by swimming, doing yoga or seated activities in an indoor environment all count as physical exercise. Continuing to move throughout the day is also important to maintain good circulation so try to move around the house every hour or so.

  1. Maintain good sleep patterns

Getting enough sleep not only helps your overall health and well-being, it also helps protect your immune system which may impact your ability to fight off illness. This is particularly important during winter when people spend more time indoors and illnesses are spread more easily so try to have 7-8 hours of sleep per night and get into the habit of having a regular sleep routine.

  1. Arrange professional in-home care

If you are feeling lonely during the winter months, companionship services can help and may be able to take you to appointments, shopping and to your social activities. Home Instead provides in-home care to help you to maintain your independence in your own home. We provide services such as home help including cleaning, changing sheets and meal preparation, as well as providing other services such as transport, personal care and specialist dementia care.