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Be prepared for extreme cold conditions

The cold can have dramatic effects on everyday life, especially for those people who are already vulnerable as a result of their age, illness or disability. The cold increases the risk of hypothermia, especially amongst the elderly, as well as increasing the risk of injury such as slipping or falling in icy conditions. If cold weather is accompanied by high winds, this can result in trees falling, poor driving conditions and power failures. All these increase the risk of injury or ill health.

With our winters starting earlier and getting harsher, we need to be prepared for these conditions.  Here are a few simple things we can do to help ourselves and those who are vulnerable and more at risk during these cold snaps:

Stay one step ahead of the weather - watch out for weather forecasts paying particular attention to extreme weather warnings on the television, radio or newspapers or visit the Met Office website.

Stock up - with tinned and frozen foods so that you don't have to go out too much when its cold or icy. Remember that tinned and frozen fruit and vegetables count towards your five a day.

Eat well - have plenty of hot food and drinks to keep your energy levels up and your body warm during winter.

Cough and colds - stock up on over the counter remedies, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and bin used tissues as soon as possible. Wash your hands regularly.

Keep active - if possible, try to move around at least once an hour.

Dress for the weather - by wearing lots of thin layers. Clothes made from cotton, wool or fleecy fibres are particularly good and help to maintain body heat. Footwear should have soles with a good grip for coping with wet and slippery surfaces, and always wear a warm coat, hat and scarf when you go outside.

Heat your house at the right temperature - your main living room should be around 18 - 21°C (64-70°F) and the rest of the house at least 16°C (61°F).  Above this and you may be wasting money, below this and you may be risking your health. If you can't heat all the rooms you use, heat the living room throughout the day and your bedroom just before you go to bed.  Close curtains, shut doors and use draft excluders to keep heat in the rooms.


Hypothermia is a condition where the body becomes dangerously cold. It can be caused by brief exposure to very cold conditions or by prolonged exposure to mild cold. Early symptoms include shivering and feeling groggy. Symptoms of severe hypothermia include difficulty breathing and a weak pulse. Severe hypothermia is life threatening and needs to be treated as a medical emergency.

To protect yourself from hypothermia:

  • Wear several thin layers of clothes to trap body heat rather than one thick layer
  • Keep warm in bed, you might want to wear bed socks and a head covering as well as warm pyjamas or a nightdress
  • Remember to wear a hat if you go outdoors, a lot of body heat is lost from the head
  • Eat well and have at least one hot meal each day
  • Have hot drinks throughout the day
  • Have adequate heating at home and take measures to reduce draughts and heat loss from your home

More advice and information about keeping warm and well this winter is available from the Keep Well This Winter website.