How to stay well over Christmas

We hear from health experts on the best ways to avoid illness this winter

We hear from health experts on the best ways to avoid illness this winter

By Patrick Heardman15 Dec 2023
6 mins read time
6 mins read time

Winter should be a time for joy, togetherness, and family. A time of embarrassing work Christmas parties, cosy films, and setting the email to “out of office” as soon as the clock strikes midnight on December 1st. But all too often our festive frivolities are sidelined by bouts of stubborn winter illnesses; nasty colds, lingering flus, and, of course, seemingly unavoidable Covid strains.

Recently top A&E doctors warned of rising pressure from winter viruses, cases of which are “creeping up” every day. Figures released by NHS England show an average of 234 people were in hospital with flu every day in the week to 11th December 2023 , up 53% on the previous week. Which begs the question: how are you supposed to keep up with all the socialising over Christmas and New Year (not to mention making it through the dark months that follow) while avoiding seasonal illnesses?

The good news is that there are steps you can take, kindly shown to us here by professionals, to reduce your chances of catching unpleasant bugs this winter, so you can spend more time photocopying your ass or whatever it is people do at office parties.


“During winter, there is often reduced exposure to sunlight, leading to potential Vitamin D deficiency,” says Isabela Ramos, a nutritionist at the at-home testing provider, MyHealthChecked. “Adequate vitamin D levels are associated with a well-functioning immune system, helping the body defend against infections and diseases.” But how much should you be taking? Well, it’s time to start popping those pills, guys, as the WHO recommends that all adults take daily supplementation of 400 IU (10 micrograms) of vitamin D during the winter months.

“There is also emerging evidence suggesting a link between vitamin D levels and mood disorders,” Isabela adds, “which may contribute to better mental wellbeing, particularly during wintertime”. Isabela also suggests adding Omega-3 to your winter supplements as it can help the activity in your immune cells and contribute to a more robust defense against pathogens.

“Omega-3 has also been associated with a lower risk of respiratory infections,” Isabela says, “which are common during the winter months. Furthermore, omega-3 supplementation has been linked to a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, which may be more pronounced during the darker winter months.”

Of course, no amount of vitamin D and Omega-3 will do any good unless you’re taking it as part of, you guessed it, a healthy and varied diet. But are there any foods you should be consuming more of in winter? Isabela recommends warm, nutrient-dense soups, incorporating seasonal produce like winter squash, brussels sprouts, and citrus fruits for a diverse nutrient profile. And she also suggests opting for whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oats to provide sustained energy.

“Adding a variety of teas with high antioxidant content is also great for winter time” she adds. “Green tea is rich in catechins, potent antioxidants that may help protect cells from oxidative stress, black tea contains polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties and may contribute to overall health, and Herbal teas such as chamomile or peppermint may have calming effects, which can be beneficial for managing stress during the winter.”

As much as I’d love to tell you that you can simply eat your way out of seasonal affective disorder and away from those persistent winter bugs, sadly that’s not the case. You should also probably jump down from that photocopier, pull up your pants, and do at least a little bit of exercise.

Keep it moving

“Physical exercise has been shown to reduce the chances of people developing viral illnesses, which are more common in winter,” Says GP Dave Nichols. “It also plays an important role in boosting immunity by increasing the circulation of immune cells which fight against infection.”

But how much should we be doing? Well, as every individual is different, Dave suggests sticking to your own personalised routine to fit around your schedule and ability level. “The use of goal setting tools such as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timed) goals is a useful way of doing this to ensure that these goals are achievable for you.”

Dr Nichols adds: “Smaller goals/achievements may be used at the start before progressing onwards. Depending on what your goals are, speaking with a professional, whether it be a doctor, personal trainer, life coach or therapist may be a good way of doing this. Speaking openly with friends and family is also important, as support from them can be invaluable.”

Meg Brown, a personal trainer who runs online fitness and lifestyle coaching sessions, agrees that it’s important to set realistic expectations when setting out your workout routine. “Schedule ahead of the week to stay organised and show up for the workouts like it’s an appointment in your diary,” she says, adding that little things such as going straight to the gym from work can help you keep consistent. “Take your kit with you to change in work and head straight to the gym if you plan on going after work. Going home and sitting down is the worst thing you could do. Head straight there!”

She also recommends that if you’re in the gym you should make a point of wiping down all your machines before and after use to help avoid unwanted germs. “If you don’t enjoy training inside the gym,” Meg says, “wrap up and go for a half an hour walk. It is especially good for your mental health more than anything.”


“During the busy festive period often slip into bad habits with their sleep,” Dr Nichols says. “Sleep is known to massively impact on your health so ensuring you get at least seven hours of sleep a night is important, whilst trying to keep your sleeping pattern regular.”

But remember, it’s Christmas! Which should be time to let your hair down and have a little fun, which Dr Nichols says is also of course very beneficial to your health: “Christmas is a time to relax and enjoy yourself with family and friends. Socialising increases during this period which can lead to an increase in your alcohol intake or eating out more.”

Take this as your official doctor’s note to have a little fun this Christmas (within moderation of course!)