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Getting cold is never a good idea

                                   December 2009 

GETTING COLD IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA 

keeping warmThe icy winters of my childhood seem a long memory now. Waking up with ice on the inside of the windows, putting freezing fingers into a bowl of hot water and that painful tingling sensation as feeling comes back – today few modern youngsters will have experienced these problems thanks in part to modern clothing and better heating systems and insulation.

However, even in warmer winters, here in the UK there is a damp chill in the air and getting cold is not healthy or indeed comfortable.

You know when you are beginning to feel cold through signals from your skin and most of us will respond immediately by putting on more clothes, moving around or putting up the heating. However, if you continue to be cold, your body’s own automatic defence system will start taking action to prevent any further heat loss. This is vital so that the organs deep inside your body maintain their core temperature.

Early reactions to getting cold include shivering. This is a reflex reaction to cold when the body’s muscle groups around the vital organs begin to shake in small movements in an attempt to create warmth by expending energy. Other reactions from the body to cold can include a restriction of blood flow to the skin and the release of some hormones to generate heat.

However, these automatic reactions may not be enough. Our normal body temperature is 37°C (98.6°F). If your deep core body temperature drops to 35°C (95°F) or below, then you will be suffering from hypothermia. This is not what you feel on your skin, but the temperature of the organs deep inside your body and real hypothermia is a major problem that can lead to your organs closing down and death.

Hypothermia is frightening because initially the person may be unaware they are getting cold; this is especially true with older people who have mobility problems. The onset of hypothermia can be fast and is potentially life-threatening; hypothermia should always be treated as a medical emergency.

However, even in far less severe cases of cold, the body’s defences can be reduced and our resistance to common winter ailments can increase. A lower body temperature has also been associated with increasing risk of heart attacks, strokes, breathing difficulties and pneumonia. Being over cold is also no good for our mental health and agility; and even slightly cold fingers can mean everyday tasks become complicated.

Today there is no need for any of us to be cold in winter.

Modern clothing is excellent with a huge range of insulated jackets and everyday wear to keep in the body warmth. Most of us know that several layers of clothing rather than one thick layer works better as body heat is trapped between the layers, and it is also easy to shed a layer if you have overdone the cold protection! Recently there has been some dispute about that long held belief that we lose a mass of heat from our heads, but nevertheless keeping the extremities well protected – our feet, hands and head - makes a lot of sense. Today you can buy a variety of specialist clothing items that can be heated in the microwave and retain their heat for ages, an easy and cost effective way of helping to keep warm.

Activity of course is key as well – it is surprising how a sudden burst of physical activity can get the blood flowing and establish a lovely warm glow. It is also surprising if you spend long hours sitting in front of the television or computer perhaps, how cold the body can become simply because it is not moving at all. So always make sure you factor in regular spells of activity, whatever you are doing.

Keeping the house warm is obviously important throughout the winter, and the general recommendation is a temperature of around 21C or 70F during the day time. My husband thinks this is stifling hot while I would happily turn it up to 25! But whatever your personal preference, thanks to modern insulation, keeping a home warm today is nowhere as costly as it used to be and modern central heating systems allow you to control the temperature of individual rooms as well as the entire house.

Eating warm food is useful, and it is important to drink enough in cold weather even if you don‘t feel particularly thirsty. Regular warm drinks don’t mean you have to overload yourself with caffeine. A friend of mine surprised me once by asking for a cup of hot water instead of tea, and now I also often drink a mug of hot water. It is warming, very pleasant – and has no calories at all.

Treating winter weather is really a matter of common sense, but it is easy to forget common sense as we become absorbed in day to day activities and suddenly find we have let ourselves become over cold. Being aware of your body temperature and if you are beginning to feel cold is probably one of the most important things of all during the colder months.

The Government has put out a Keep Warm, Keep Well winter guide which you should be able to obtain from your doctor or pharmacist, or you can download it from:
www.direct.gov.uk/keepwarmkeepwell

If you feel you are entitled to a winter fuel payment, usually sent automatically to people over 60 depending on circumstances, then there is a helpline available on
08459 15 15 15 or visit the website: www.thepensionservice.gov.uk/winterfuel

 


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