How to avoid common winter ailments?

Preventing Common Winter Diseases

Preventing Common Winter Diseases

What are the common winter related ailments?

Winter is well and truly with us, and as always, it is better to watch out for certain ailments that usually accompany the drop in temperature.  It is well recognised that conditions such as arthritis and heart diseases can worsen during this period.  However, broadly speaking, commonly occurring cold-related ailments could be classified as respiratory and skin conditions.

Respiratory conditions such as upper and lower respiratory tract infections (common cold, flu and pneumonia) occur commonly, while asthma and chronic bronchitis may worsen during the cold season.  As far as possible, avoid individuals who already have respiratory infections, as contact with contaminated body parts, and inhaling droplets exhaled by them are sources of infection.  If you do develop infections, keep yourself warm, take rest and hydrate yourself adequately with warm fluids.  Antibiotics rarely help as most of the infections are likely to be due to viruses which do not respond to them.  Those with pre-existing asthma and bronchitis should take extra care to make sure that they keep themselves warm, and take their medications and inhalers regularly.

Cold weather causes dryness of skin which can lead to intense itching, especially on the shin, thighs, trunk and arms.  Besides, pre-existing conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can worsen during winters.  Keep your skin moisturized at all times.  Exposure of skin to sunny weather is important to prevent the worsening of conditions such as psoriasis.

Why is it difficulty to stay healthy in winters?

  • Cold weather is not conducive to hard work.  This means dragging yourself out of the bed at six in the morning, and going out for a walk, jog, swim or to the gym is a very difficult proposition.  Winter is also associated with the festive season during which we are likely to consume high calorie food stuffs without giving the body a chance to burn off the extra calories.
  • Sedentariness leads to lack of circulation in the extremities, lethargy and increase in the fat levels in the body.  Fat cells are known to produce pro-inflammatory substances when stimulated by the immune system as a response to infections.  This means that the body has to cope with the excess inflammatory substances, more than what is necessary to ward off the infection, leading to not just illness, but a weaker immune response to illness.

What can be done to reduce cold related ailments?

In an interesting experiment conducted by scientists at the Chosun University in South Korea, which was published in the journal, Scientific Reports, laboratory mice were studied for the effect of exercise on the markers of inflammation.  Mice were divided into two groups; exercise and sedentary.  Those in the former group were made to swim around in shallow water, while those in the latter group remained restful.  After three weeks, Staphylococcus bacteria were inoculated into mice of both the groups.  Inflammation set in rapidly and strongly in the sedentary mice, while the response was far more measured in the swimmer mice.  In addition, potent antimicrobial cells were produced in the swimmer mice which directly killed the bacteria.

It appeared that the swimmer mice had developed a more effective immune response system, which may also be the result of reducing the fat cells that produce inflammatory substances because of the exercise that they were subjected to.  While admitting that these are only animal experiments, the authors of the study concluded that regular exercise could considerably improve the immune defence mechanism even against viral infections such as cold and flu.

  • As far as diet is concerned, high calorie food stuffs should be avoided.  Carrots, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, honey, green tea and chamomile tea are particularly good winter foods.
  • In addition to diet and exercise, if you keep yourself and the house warm, expose yourself to as much sun as possible, and do breathing exercises and meditation to regularise the breathing pattern, the impact of winter-related ailments could be significantly reduced.