ISLAMABAD: Health experts predict a massive rise in flu cases as the cold bites.
But by preparing now you could defend yourself from a whole range of ailments from falls and fractures to chapped skin, chilblains and chest infections.

Here’s our top-to-toe guide...

BONES
Falls on snow and ice caused almost 3,000 hospital admissions between 2014 and 2015.

“It’s very common to get a fracture in later life,” says Sarah Leyland, senior nurse at the National Osteoporosis Society. “The balance between building and losing bone, which is ongoing, tends to get out of balance – particularly after the age of 50.”

And don’t be fooled by our recent mild autumn. “Most UK winters see localised cold, icy snaps which can make walking difficult,” says Carl Marsh, founder of Ice Gripper products.
 
Broken bones are a common winter ailment as people slip on ice (Image: E+)
BEAT THE CHILL : Opt for wider soles to spread your weight over a greater surface area, with a grip design for improved traction, says podiatrist Michael Ratcliffe.

Swapping your handbag for a backpack frees up your arms for balance – while a telescopic walking pole offers extra confidence.

Take shorter steps, slow down and, in deep snow, consciously walk heel to toe.
Pop on ice grips over your shoes. (Ice Gripper own-brand grips start at £7.99 or invest in snow boots).

Boost your magnesium levels. Half of the body’s magnesium is found in the bones with a deficiency affecting strength.

Products absorbed through the skin increase levels five times faster than oral supplements. Try magnesium body spray, flakes or lotion (from £9.95, betteryou.com).
Aim for 20-35 minutes of weight-bearing cardio exercise a day such as brisk walking, light jogging, bouncing on a mini-trampoline or skipping.

Three times a week add resistance training to improve bone density.
 
AIRWAYS
Breathing in cold air causes airways to dry out and constrict. This can lead to a burning sensation in the lungs, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and trigger asthma flare-ups.

“Plummeting temperatures and an abundance of unpredictable cold and flu viruses spell bad news for people with asthma, who are at increased risk of life-threatening attacks,” says Dr Andrew Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.

Cold, flu and mild bronchitis can also lead to chest infection, warns GP Dr Sarah Brewer. High-risk groups include the elderly, smokers, people with diabetes and those with other health problems or lung conditions.

BEAT THE CHILL : Get a flu jab. “This is crucial to inhaler-users,” says Dr Whittamore.
If you do succumb to a cold, flu or mild bronchitis, inhaling with steam can reduce the chances of chest infection, says Dr Brewer.

“This helps to moisten and thin mucus so you can cough it up more easily to prevent inflammation of the airways.”

For more effectiveness add a decongestant essential oil such as pine or eucalyptus.
Breathe cold air via your nose rather than mouth to warm before it reaches your lungs, advises Dr Whittamore.

MIND
One in three people in the UK experience some form of winter depression – with women 40% more likely than men to succumb.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is caused by lack of bright light in winter, explains Dr Victoria Revell at the University of Surrey.

“As a result, many people find their body clock moving forwards during the winter making it harder and harder to get up and get going in the mornings.”

BEAT THE CHILL : Wake to light. “This provides the stimulus the body needs to help keep the body clock on track by suppressing the production of the sleep hormones,” says Dr Revell. Try Lumie’s new Bodyclock Luxe 750D (£199, lumie.co.uk).

“Exercising outdoors helps”, says Helen Hanson, chair of the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, pointing out that natural daylight “is better than any lightbox”.
SKIN

Winter can be particularly challenging for skin, explains dermatology nurse specialist Natalie Fisher. “Its main role is to act as a protective barrier with a layer of lipids, or natural fats, crucial for keeping moisture in and the dirt out.

“But cold air, central heating and hot baths can all contribute to a breakdown in that lipid barrier, leaving the skin less elastic and supple.”

BEAT THE CHILL : Strengthen your barrier now by regularly applying moisturiser.
“Consider using heavier, petroleum-based emollients during winter,” says Natalie.
If the skin does break, try What Skin Needs Cracked Skin Cream (£8.99, whatskinneeds.co.uk)

Long hot indulgent baths and showers can irritate and dry the skin, says Natalie. Opt for warm water, pat dry and apply moisturiser while skin is damp.

Switch to emollient/cream washes instead of lathering or foaming products that strip away natural oils, says consultant dermatologist Dr Sharon Wong (drsharonwong.com).

Avoid harsh detergents, says Natalie. “For eczema or sensitive skin, choose specialist, fragrance-free laundry products.”
 
The right products will clear up cracked skin caused by icy blasts (Image: Digital Vision)

HANDS
Some people have oversensitive blood vessels which over-react to cold temperatures.
Whereas normal vessels slow circulation to protect the body’s core temperature, oversensitive vessels shrink, restricting blood flow.

This can lead to Raynaud’s phenomenon – symptoms include cold fingers and toes, skin discolouration, numbness and tingling.

BEAT THE CHILL : Wear good-quality gloves, avoid washing hands in cold water and touching cold or frozen items.

Wear gloves and socks containing silver for natural heat-retaining properties. (From £9.50, srukshop.co.uk).

Stop smoking – and avoid stimulants like caffeine. Exercise regularly to both boost circulation and reduce stress (another Raynaud’s trigger).

To warm hands, swing your arms like bowling a cricket ball, say experts, as the centrifugal force rushes blood to cold fingers.

Research has shown that ginkgo leaf extracts can increase blood flow in small vessels or capillaries. Try A Vogel ginkgo biloba drops (£9.75 for 50ml, avogel.co.uk).
See your GP if Raynaud’s is bad. Medication can ease the symptoms.

Give severely chapped hands a deep moisturising mask treatment to restore hydration. Apply a generous quantity of thick emollient (try La Roche Posay Lipikar Baume AP+, £12.50, laroche-posay.co.uk) and then cover with cotton gloves and leave overnight, advises Dr Wong.

CORE
Studies have found a link between low temperatures and a rise in heart attacks.
In fact, research in the British Medical Journal showed that a one degree Celsius fall in temperature was linked with a cumulative 2% increased risk of heart attack.

If body temperature drops below 35C, hypothermia can set in.

Sluggish circulation – or blood being pumped less effectively around the body – can also worsen varicose veins.

BEAT THE CHILL : Wear a vest. “It’s an essential garment for healthy wellbeing,” says holistic therapist Sofia Kupse (themusclewhisperer.co.uk). “Keeping your core insulated and warm will prevent heat loss from conduction.”

Keep moving. Being active boosts circulation and creates warmth.

Ensure your home is at least 18C.

Opt for thermals which work by trapping warm air while wicking away moisture. Try a sleeveless thermal thermadactyl vest (from £13.50, damart.co.uk).
 
Warm socks will boost circulation as the legs stay warmer (Image: Getty Images)
FEET

“In cold conditions, the body reduces the amount of blood circulating in our extremities to preserve its core temperature,” explains podiatrist Michael Ratcliffe at Carnation Footcare.

And chilly feet are more than just uncomfortable. Volunteers who sat with their feet in cold water for 20 minutes had a far greater chance of developing cold symptoms within five days. Studies show that cold feet can even make it harder to fall asleep.

BEAT THE CHILL : Merino wool socks offer extra warmth and comfort in winter, advises Michael. Toasty legs also boost circulation – so try long-johns or thermal leggings under clothes.

“Remember the rule of thumb when wearing more socks,” says Michael. “There should always be enough room to wiggle your toes freely.”

Keep active and avoid smoking. Moisturise feet twice daily to stop a build-up of dry skin.
LIPS
The skin on our lips is far thinner than anywhere else on the body – and contains no moisturising sebaceous glands.
As a result, lips are far more likely to become dehydrated, leading to chaps and splits.
Extreme temperatures and conditions can also reawaken the dormant herpes virus, triggering cold sores .
BEAT THE CHILL : Slather on Blistex Intensive Moisturiser Hydrating Lip Cream (£2.69 from Boots) which contains five protectant products to seal in moisture.
Prevent cold sores by using Lipivir gel.
Applied morning and night, it claims to drastically reduce the frequency of outbreaks (from £8.99, lipivir.com).
JOINTS
“People who suffer from arthritis may experience increased pain and stiffness during colder months,” says consultant rheumatologist Dr Rod Hughes.
Osteoarthritis affects an estimated eight million people in the UK with rheumatoid arthritis affecting 400,000.
BEAT THE CHILL : Try GOPO. “Studies suggest that this natural compound derived from the seeds and husks of rosehips can rapidly reduce joint pain, reduce joint stiffness, improve joint mobility and reduce the need for standard painkillers in osteoarthritis,” says Dr Hughes. (Try GOPO Joint Health, from £18.99 for 120 capsules; gopo.co.uk).
“There is also evidence of benefit for those with rheumatoid arthritis.
Keep active, if you can,” adds Dr Hughes.