COLD weather is set to ravage the UK this week and forecasters have issued weather warnings across most of the country.
While our main priority is staying warm as the weather gets chillier – the chill could also put your health at risk.
A yellow weather warning for freezing fog is in place until 2am on Wednesday for areas including Norfolk, Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Medway.
Dr Ishani Kar-Purkayastha, consultant in public health at PHE, said people should try to heat their homes to at least 18C, particularly those with reduced mobility, are 65 and over, or have a health condition.
She said: "Keep moving too if you can. Get up and walk around and spread housework throughout the day to help keep yourself warm. Food is also a vital source of energy so have plenty of hot food and drinks.
"Remember to check up on frail or older neighbours and relatives at this time, particularly if they live alone, and remember to follow Covid-19 social distancing guidance when looking out for others."
The cold winter weather can also have an impact on all parts of the body – including, yep, your private parts.
And on a more serious note cold weather also means you're more likely to suffer from serious conditions such as a heart attack or blood clots.
Here, we take you through the main health dangers that can be triggered by cold weather…
1. Blood clots
Sudden changes in temperature cause thermal stress for the body – which has to work harder to maintain its constant temperature.
In particular, research has shown this makes it more likely for people to suffer from dangerous blood clots during winter.
Study authors, from a hospital in Nice, France, suggested that respiratory tract infections more common in winter might make patients more vulnerable to blood clots.
They also suggested that chilly weather might make the blood vessels constrict, making it more likely that blood clots will form.
2. Heart attacks
People exposed to cold weather are more likely to suffer a heart attack, a recent study revealed.
Researchers from Sweden from Lund University in Sweden found that the average number of heart attacks per day was significantly higher when the weather as cold compared to when the weather was warm.
On a day-to-day basis it translated to four more heart attacks per day when the average temperature was below zero.
It is thought the risk of heart attacks is higher in cold weather because the body responds to feeling chilly by restricting superficial blood vessels.
This decreases how warm the skin is and increases blood flow through the arteries.
The body also begins to shiver and your heart rate increases to keep you warm.
But these responses can add extra stress on your heart.
The cold chill and central heating systems often cause eczema to flare up during the winter season.
Dermatologist Dr Daniel Glass at The Dermatology Clinic London says: "Eczema in the winter is incredibly common, with many people finding that their skin will flare up more frequently or get worse during the colder months, as the cold biting winds and central heating systems continuously dry out their skin.
"Their eczema may be further irritated by taking hot baths or showers, which will in turn strip the skin of its natural oils.
"Bundling up in woollies to ward off the cold may also irritate the skin and exacerbate symptoms, so try to layer up in cotton clothing which is often kinder and softer on the skin.
"Keeping the skin well moisturised is one of the most important things you can do to prevent the eczema flaring up."
4. Winter vagina
Women are likely to suffer more with vaginal dryness during the winter months, according to Mary Burke, a former NHS midwife and senior clinical nurse at the London Bridge Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Clinic.
"Dry autumn and winter air depletes moisture from our bodies, leaving our skin dehydrated and cracked, and out sinuses parched," she said.
While it’s an issue few will want to discuss openly, our vaginas can enter ‘drought mode’ during this time
“And while it’s an issue few will want to discuss openly, our vaginas can enter ‘drought mode’ during this time, too.
“When we spend a lot of time in air conditioned rooms, or with the heating on, we’re living in air which carries very little moisture.
“And the dryness we experience can often extend to every inch of our bodies – including our most private regions."
5. The flu
With winter comes warm coats, oversized scarfs…and the flu.
Coming down with a cold or flu is almost unavoidable in the colder months, with flu season tending to start in mid-November then peaking in mid-January to March.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a flu expert at Nottingham Trent University told The Sun Online:
"The flu circulates more easily in the winter.
Our general immune levels are a bit lower because of the lack of sunlight, and we are spending more time indoors
"Our general immune levels are a bit lower because of the lack of sunlight, and we are spending more time indoors which makes it easier for bugs to get passed around."
Your best protection against the nasty bug is the flu vaccine, but eating the right foods can also help protect you and your family.
6. Weight gain
Most people have noticed they can no longer fit into their skinny jeans comfortably over the winter months.
In particular, craving warming comfort foods and rich, carbohydrate-heavy meals in the chilly weather can lead to winter weight gain.
And, on top of this, many people feel unmotivated to exercise in the cold outdoor weather.
Five ways to speed up fat loss this winter
1. Focus on portion size
Stick to certain serving sizes, such as a "tennis ball sized" portion of pasta, rice, noodles or couscous. and one handful of breakfast cereal.
2. Avoid fatty toppings
Watch what you eat starchy carbs with, – serving them with butter, cream, fatty meat and cheese won’t help you shape up.
3. Hit the gym
A calorie controlled diet and exercise in tandem is the best way to reduce body fat.
4. Snack wisely
Choose your snack food wisely – even healthy looking snacks, like reduced fat biscuits, cereal bars, yogurt, cereals etc. might seem like virtuous choices, but not all are created equally.
5. Sleep for longer
Getting an extra hour of sleep alters your metabolism so your body can process food effectively.
A recent study also revealed that our cells store more fat when we are not exposed to sunshine.
"When the sun’s blue light wavelengths — the light we can see with our eye — penetrate our skin and reach the fat cells just beneath, lipid droplets reduce in size and are released out of the cell," explained Peter Light, senior author of the Scientific Reports study.
Because the sun is rarely out during winter, it means our bodies are more likely to store fat; "contributing to the typical weight gain some of us have over winter," one of the other study authors, Dr Charles A. Allard, noted.
7. Winter depression
The winter blues aren’t just in your head.
As the days shorten, many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – which causes them to have a persistent low mood and feelings of despair, worthlessness and lethargy.
The exact cause of SAD isn't fully understood, but it's often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.
The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of hormones including melatonin and serotonin.
These hormones affect your mood, appetite and sleep.
For kids and adults, asthma is normally a lot harder to control during the winter months.
This is because the cold, dry air can irritate airwaves and cause the muscles inside to spasm.
Chilly weather, colds and flu, chest infections and mould are more common and can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks
Emma Rubach, Head of Health Advice at Asthma UK, says: "Winter can be a dangerous time for people with asthma in the UK as chilly weather, colds and flu, chest infections and mould are more common and can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks.
"They cause airways to become inflamed, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and struggling to breathe.
"Make sure you carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at all times and keep taking their regular preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed.
"The simple scarf could also save your life.
"Do a 'scarfie’ – wrapping a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth to help warm up the air before they breathe it in, as cold air is another asthma attack trigger.
"It could also be helpful to stick to indoor activities when the weather is particularly cold."
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