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How to take care of your health this winter

By Sponsored content 6 January 2020

If there’s one thing we don’t miss about winter back in the Western part of the world, it’s the awfully shortened days. The bitter chill, rainy weather, and a persistent lack of sunshine make the winter months a tough time to stay healthy. Here in Hong Kong, we already have it much better because at least it’s not completely dark out by half four, and even in winter, it never really gets too cold. Nevertheless, during this time, we are more prone to picking up bugs, and it’s harder to keep up the motivation to eat well and exercise.

Don’t despair just yet! Dr Paula Falconer, general practitioner and health assessment doctor at BUPA, gives us her top tips on how to take care of your health and make winter in Hong Kong work better for you.

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1. Hack your mornings

We all know the struggles of emerging out of bed in wintertime. To make things easier, you could set up an alarm clock lamp which lights up gradually over time to mimic the sunrise. This way, your circadian rhythm won’t be messed up, and you can wake up gradually with the sun (your body doesn’t have to know the light is fake). Some people find this significantly improves their quality of sleep and how they feel in the mornings.

If you have a heater at home, set the auto-timer to turn on half an hour before you get up—nobody likes to crawl out of bed into the cold! Make a point to also have a good breakfast in the mornings. Dr Falconer cites porridge as a warming breakfast that is also great for giving you energy.

2. Keep your hands clean

Needless to say, hygiene is important all year round, but it’s especially vital during winter when illnesses such as the flu, colds, and norovirus are more common. The weather means we’re more likely to stay cooped up indoors, where we can easily pick up germs, so it’s important to minimise spreading infection. One of the easiest ways to do this is to regularly wash your hands. According to the World Health Organisation, you should:

  • Wash your hands for the same amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.
  • Use an adequate amount of soap and start off with rubbing palm to palm.
  • Make sure you get soap in between your fingers, and on the backs of your hands.
  • Rinse with warm water and make sure to dry them thoroughly.
  • Take care to clean your hands after using the toilet and before preparing food.
  • Use an alcohol-based sanitising rub when you don’t have access to water and soap.

3. Take Vitamin D

This point might be rather more relevant to the autumn and winter months in Western countries more so than in Hong Kong, but it’s a salient one nevertheless. The lack of sunshine means our bodies are unable to generate enough vitamin D ourselves, so the National Health Service in the UK actually recommends people take a daily vitamin D supplement.

While the vitamin is present in certain foods, it’s not possible to get enough from diet alone. Luckily, supplements are readily available at pharmacies and health food stores; get an option containing 10 micrograms, which is an adult’s recommended daily intake.

4. Have medicinal essentials on hand

Sometimes even getting in good food, regular exercise, and adequate sleep is not quite enough to keep illness at bay. That’s why it’s always worth stocking up on some medicinal essentials at home. Here are some to combat winter colds in Hong Kong:

  • Painkillers: These will help combat high temperatures or aches and pains that come with common winter viruses. Popular choices are aspirin, paracetamol, or ibuprofen.
  • Oral rehydration sachets: If you have diarrhoea or are sick and cannot keep food down, these can help replace the fluids you’ve lost and prevent dehydration as well.
  • Medicines such as antacids: These are in case you indulge a bit too much over the festive period. Symptoms such as heartburn, stomach ache, trapped wind, and ingestion could arise.

5. Feed yourself well

Eating well is the best way to keep yourself topped up with energy, vitamins, and nutrients. We know it’s tempting to load up on comfort foods when it’s cold, but you shouldn’t neglect fruits and vegetables as they help protect our bodies from illness. The winter months see new produce coming into season, most of which are usually great for making soups and stews.

Stock up on pantry staples such as kidney beans, chickpeas, tinned tomatoes, and sweetcorn; frozen vegetables can also make a healthy meal at a pinch when you’re strapped for time. Having a vegetarian or vegan meal every now and then will also boost your vegetable intake. Dr Falconer herself aims to have at least three vegetables in every meal.

Additionally, we know hot drinks are comforting in the cold, but you should still limit your caffeine intake to a maximum of four cups a day. This limit of 400 milligrams is based on an average adult weighing 70 kilograms, so if you’re lighter, your intake should be decreased accordingly. Too much caffeine can have a detrimental effect on your sleep and energy levels.

6. Get moving

It’s fair enough to want to just snuggle into your duvet when it’s cold outside, but Hong Kong’s winters are never too brutal to go outside for some fresh air. Even if you don’t feel like jogging or hiking, a brisk walk will do plenty of good.

Exercise is important for both physical and mental health—not to mention it’ll also warm you up—so do try to do some sort of activity every day. Even on days when it’s not great weather, we have no lack of gyms in the city, so try that new exercise class you’ve had your eye on, or simply do some yoga from the comfort of your living room.

7. Look after your mental wellbeing

The darker days and colder weather can put a damper on your mood in what’s referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). You may find yourself feeling a bit more blue or more tired than usual. Here are some ways to give your mood a boost:

  • Make the most when there’s natural sunlight; sit near a window and get outside for a little while every day.
  • Sleep is absolutely essential for mental health. Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for a good night’s rest.
  • Practice mindfulness to keep focused on the present and the positives. Enjoy the little moments such as the crunching sound of leaves when you’re walking around, the crackling of an open fire, or the warmth and relaxation of a hot bath to help you unwind.
  • Make time to do things that matter to you, whether this is seeing your friends and family, or spending time on your personal hobbies.

8. Keep your home cosy

You want to be able to enjoy your time indoors by keeping warm and comfortable. The buzzy concept of hygge is all about capturing a sense of wellness in everyday living by slowing down, being together, and feeling cosy. Keep your home warm—at a minimum of 18 degrees celsius—and organise a get-together with your friends for a candlelit supper or a movie night. At night, close curtains, windows, and doors to keep the heat in.

With a bit of thought and preparation in looking after yourself and your surroundings, you’ll be able to make winter a happy and healthy time of year, even in Hong Kong.

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