Opinion: This winter give yourself and others the gift of good health


By Councillor James Reeder, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Prevention.

autumn wellnessIt may only be October but it’s already beginning to look a lot like Christmas. There are advent calendars in the supermarket aisles, talk of TV Christmas specials and seasonal commitments filling up my diary.

When it comes to present buying there’s one gift you may not have thought of – there’s no time like the present to get your flu jab. If you’re a healthy adult you may think there’s no need, but by reducing your risk, you’re also reducing the risk to others.

You’re saving those who are most vulnerable – such as your dad who has Type 1 diabetes, your cousin undergoing chemotherapy, or your new-born nephew from suffering from a nasty, potentially debilitating illness. Whilst flu for a healthy person quite often means just a few days in bed recovering, those with an underlying illness can be hospitalised with complications.

Groups who are at greater risk of the serious effects of flu, for example because they are pregnant, have a long-term health condition or are 65 years of age or over, are eligible for a free vaccination. This also includes frontline health and social care workers, who work with those in the at-risk groups. If you’re eligible for the flu vaccine, get it now – it’s free because you need it!

Even if you aren’t eligible, most pharmacies offer the vaccination for around £10, which is a small price to pay for the peace of mind knowing you’re protected from flu will give you. It’s never been quicker or easier to get the jab – some pharmacies offer the service at evenings or weekend and will even allow you to book an appointment online – meaning it’s one less thing to stress about at this busy time of year.

I had my vaccination this week. It’s nothing to be afraid of – I simply headed down to my local pharmacy and was in and out within a matter of minutes. The flu vaccine that is given to adults contains inactivated or ‘dead’ flu virus, so there’s no way it can give you the flu. It takes between 10 and 14 days for your immune system to respond fully after you've had the vaccine, so the sooner you get your jab, the better! Some people may experience minor reactions to the injection like a sore arm or slight temperature for up to a couple of days afterwards – don’t worry, this is completely normal.

If you’ve already had flu this year, it’s always worth getting the injection before the end of the flu season in March. There are usually several flu viruses circulating each year, so getting vaccinated will greatly reduce your chances of catching another strain. Flu is caused by viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics won’t fight it. The vaccination really is the most effective way to reduce the risk.

Sadly, flu isn’t the only unwelcome gift to be wary of this winter. Coughs and colds already seem to be circulating. There’s no quick fix to these ailments, so prevention is better than cure. You can help yourself to stay healthy with a few small lifestyle changes.

One of these is eating well. When it’s cold outside it can be tempting to turn to comfort food, but this could leave you feeling worse. If you find yourself craving a sugary snack, try a juicy clementine or satsuma instead. Or why not make yourself a healthy treat this Halloween? Pumpkins are rich in vitamin A which supports a healthy immune system and can help you see better in the dark! They are also 90% water, which makes them just the trick for a great low-calorie pie filling.

Good food will also lead to a good mood – did you know that reducing your sugar will reduce your negative thinking? Beetroot will banish the blues, nuts and seeds could help prevent your risk of dementia and cheese can regulate your thoughts and feelings. Visit Eat Well Suffolk for more about managing your mood with food.

Staying active is another way help beat the winter bugs. Don't use the cold winter months as an excuse to stay in and lounge around. Instead, get out with the whole family to try out a new activity –maybe ice skating, or taking a bracing winter walk on the beach or through the park. Regular exercise boosts your immune system and is a good way to break the tension that can build if the family is constantly cooped up inside the house.

If you have a long-term medical condition, this doesn’t need to be a barrier for getting active. We understand how physically challenging it can be which is why One Life Suffolk will support and encourage you to increase your levels of physical activity. You can find out more at Get Help to Get Active.

No matter what your age or current fitness ability, there’s strong scientific evidence to show that being physically active and moving more can help you lead a healthier and happier life - a gift I think we’d all like this Christmas.