Next Patient Please
Too tired to exercise? Sun-starved? We've talked to a top GP about how to solve our niggling winter health worries.
Some of us Muddy editors* are pretty into our health, wellbeing and fitness, we’ll have you know. But at this point in the bleak midwinter, when spring still seems something of a slog away, we’re finding it hard to be as perky and zinging with energy as we’d like. A salad for lunch? Er, make mine macaroni cheese. Early morning jog in the dark on paths paved with black ice? Think I’ll hit snooze, thanks. You get the drift. So we decided to collar Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, director of private GP service Your Doctor to grill him on how to boost our wellbeing at this time of year. Bring on the Muddy private consultation…
We’re concerned that we’re not getting enough sunlight. We’re chained to our desks during the day and then it always seems to rain at weekends…
It’s tricky at this point in winter as sun levels are so low and that can diminish vitamin D levels which can result in aches and pains and low mood. People ideally need 10-15 minutes of sun on untreated skin (so before you slap on sunscreen) per day to maintain vitamin D levels but of course that doesn’t really happen in February. Your lunchtime walks are a good idea, as getting light into the back of your eyes will help boost mood. But people might need to take a supplement. Your doctor can give you a blood test to check your vitamin D levels.
We’re finding our usual exercise regime tough – the fire and sofa are always calling. What can we do?
It sounds obvious but you’ve got to find something you enjoy doing because if you hate it, you won’t do it. I think swimming is good in the winter – it’s a warm environment once you’re in the pool and moving. Whereas running outside in the cold puts your body under more physiological stress than it would in the summer. Dry winter air can dry out the lining of the lungs and you can be more prone to chest infections. Then you’ve got the risks of falling on ice. Bear in mind activity doesn’t have to be done outdoors – you can find HIIT workouts to do in your house, using stairs and chairs – and with the ’30 mins of exercise, 5 times per week’ NHS target those 30 mins don’t have to be consecutive. You can do three 10 minute blasts through the day.
Coughs and colds are plaguing our families. And a kiddie sick day = disaster for working mothers… How can we combat this?
Everyone sits indoors more with the windows shut in winter so viruses spread more easily between us. Many viruses are still active for several hours – so if someone touches a table with germs on their hand, you can still pick up those germs hours later. Police your children to make sure they wash their hands properly and make sure you do the same. And make sure you open your windows regularly so the air can circulate – modern houses are designed now to keep the heat in so have very little ventilation. And remember exercise, eating well and sleeping well will contribute to good immunity.
The Muddy office is a sea of limp, chilly salads at lunchtime and we’re bored! What should we be eating in the winter for maximum wellbeing?
The Mediterranean diet is still proven to be the best diet in the world for health and those countries are good at eating seasonally – salad isn’t an option in the winter, now they’d be eating things containing broccoli, artichokes, chard, cabbage, pulses and beans. So look at what’s in season and include 5-7 of the veg and fruit options in your diet each day.
We’re far grumpier and more tired in the winter than summer. Thoughts?
Keeping to a routine is really important – the body is like a machine, it expects to do the same things at the same time. So that’s going to bed at the same time and sleeping for the same amount of hours, eating at the same times, doing the same amount of exercise. But in the winter that can changes and it throws us off – we exercise less and and sit on the sofa more, snacking. So try to keep to your schedule – be disciplined and consistent.
What do you suggest for women who’ve vowed to prioritize their health this year?
The best things you can do for your health are: don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol (no more than 1-2 glasses per night, with several nights off per week), and sleep, exercise and eat well. But also I encourage people to take a pro-active rather than reactive approach, which means not waiting until you’re ill to see a doctor. I say to my patients if you’ve bought a new Mercedes, you wouldn’t expect it to run for 10 years with no service – and you should apply the same principle to your health.
Go for one less weekend mini-break and invest that money in an annual health medical. That would pick up, for example, low vitamin D levels and you can plan how to treat it before it’s a big problem. One thing we’re testing a lot at the moment are telomeres. These are the bits at the end of your chromosomes that protect them – like the plastic bit at the end of your shoelaces. There are lifestyle factors that can shorten them, such as stress and bad diet, and the result can be a shortened your life expectancy. We can measure them, via a blood test, to find your biological age and compare that your actual age. I had one patient who was 50 but his biological age was 60 – that’s quite a profound thing to hear and it can encourage people to change their path and choose a healthier lifestyle.
Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, Director and GP at Your Doctor