Wrapping up warm
Some simple precautions can help you stay healthy in winter. If you're going outside:
- wrap up warm
- wear layers, which help to trap warm air and keep you warmer than one thick jumper
- wear a hat, gloves and scarf
- wear water-resistant shoes with good grip and a warm lining.
If you have a respiratory or heart problem, stay inside when the weather is very cold.
Wrapping up warm can also help protect you against chilblains. These are small, itchy red patches that appear if you've tried to warm up too quickly after going out in the cold or damp. They should go away on their own in two to three weeks. You should avoid scratching or picking at your skin – ask your pharmacist about painkillers you can take and creams to soothe any itching.
Keep grit and/or salt to put on your path. Some councils provide free bags of this, or you can get it from a DIY store.
Eating and exercising well
Keep your cupboards and freezer well stocked in case you can't go out. Make sure you eat a healthy diet:
- have hot meals and drinks throughout the day
- eat plenty of fruit and vegetables – frozen and tinned fruit and veg still count towards your five a day and they keep for longer, so it’s worth stocking up on these
- drink more milk and eat dairy products to boost your immune system and help prevent colds.
The NHS has an Eatwell Guide that can help you work out a balanced diet.
Try to stay active and go outside if it isn’t too icy or cold. If you can’t go out, don’t sit still for more than an hour. Moving around inside can help to keep you warm, for example, doing household chores and making a cup of tea. If you have health or mobility problems, talk to your GP about how much and what sort of exercises you can do.
Make sure you have a flu jab every year. It’s free if you're 65 or over, a carer or have certain health conditions. For the 2020/21 flu season it will be available for free to more groups of people because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including households of people on the shielded patient list. Although it can’t prevent coronavirus, it can help protect you from severe complications of flu, such as pneumonia.
It's best to get the jab as early as possible during autumn, before the winter flu season. Contact your GP or ask your local pharmacist to arrange one.
If you are over 65, you are also eligible for a pneumo jab which helps protect against pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia. This is usually a one-off jab.
It's common to catch a cold, flu or get a sore throat in the colder months. Keep your medicine cabinet stocked up with a range of every day medicines in case you get ill, such as:
- cough medicine
- throat lozenges
- sore throat sprays.
You can contact your pharmacist for advice if you are feeling unwell. Some pharmacies operate a minor ailment scheme, which may enable you to get medicine for some minor illnesses for free if you don’t normally pay for prescriptions. You'll need to be registered with a GP surgery that is taking part in the scheme.
Some pharmacies offer a home delivery service for repeat prescriptions. You can also order repeat prescriptions online and get them delivered to you.
Getting enough vitamin D
Lack of sunshine in winter can mean you don’t get enough vitamin D. Other sources of vitamin D, apart from sunlight, include:
- oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel
- some margarine
- some cereals and dairy products.
It is recommended that all adults consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter. Anyone at risk of vitamin D deficiency - such as people who aren't able to get outdoors much or live in a care home - should take a daily supplement throughout the year. Ask your GP or pharmacist for advice before taking any supplements.
Keeping your home warm
Being cold can be bad for your health, increasing the risk of flu or more serious problems, such as a heart attack, stroke or hypothermia. You should keep yourself and your home warm. Tips include:
- check the thermostat – your living room should be around 21°C (70°F) and other rooms at least 18°C (64°F)
- keep your bedroom at 18°C (64°F) at night, and keep the window and door closed
- draw the curtains to keep warmth in
- keep furniture away from radiators so the heat can circulate
- put draught excluders around doors and windows
- use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to warm up your bed. Never use both together, as this can be dangerous.
Insulating your home can make it much warmer and save money on bills. Our factsheet Paying for home maintenance and repairs gives more information about home insulation and how to pay for it.
You may also be eligible for support to make your home more energy efficient. Visit Simple Energy Advice for more information.
If you're a home owner, you could apply for a Green Homes Grant, which gives you a voucher towards the cost of installing energy-efficient home improvements, such as double glazing, wall insulation and heating controls.
Help with costs
Make sure you're claiming all the benefits you’re entitled to. You probably already get a Winter Fuel Payment if you were born on or before 5 October 1954, but there are other benefits as well.
If you get Pension Credit, you should automatically get a cold weather payment of £25 when the temperature goes below 0°C (32°F) for seven days in a row between November and March.
If you receive Guarantee Pension Credit, you may qualify for a one-off discount on your electricity bill. Contact your supplier or the Warm Home Discount Scheme to find out more.
Check that you are on the best fuel tariff. You may be able to save money by switching energy supplier.
If you're struggling to pay your energy bills, remember you can’t be cut off by your energy supplier between October and March if everyone in your home is of State Pension age. Contact your supplier to set up a repayment plan or have a prepayment meter installed.
Be prepared for a power cut
Bad winter weather can sometimes cause damage and disruption to your gas or electricity supply, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for a power cut or gas leak.
- Know your free emergency numbers - in a power cut dial 105 or, for a gas emergency, dial 0800 111999.
- Prepare your home – keep a torch handy and get your appliances serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. See our factsheet Home safety for more information.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast and, if you have a power cut or a gas emergency, check on your neighbours.
- Join your supplier's Priority Services Register (PSR). People on the PSR may receive support in a power cut, such as alternative heating or cooking facilities. You can sign up to a PSR if you're of State Pension age, are disabled or have a long-term medical condition, have a hearing or sight impairment or are in a vulnerable situation. Ofgem has more information.
You can use our two checklists below to mark off the practical steps you have taken to stay warm and well in winter, both before and during the colder months.
You can read our advice guide, Winter wise, for more tips on how to stay well during winter and save on energy bills.