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This autumn … fall into good habits

Autumn is coming and change is in the air. Days get shorter, the temperatures drop, the leaves start to turn from lush green to vibrant reds, yellows, oranges and golden, it starts to get dark earlier in the evenings and there is a call for extra layers of clothing. However, as autumn gradually whisks away summer, the changing season can also impact the human body and mood.

Bad health habits

With autumn coming, there are several bad habits that are particularly tempting and damaging to your health, like staying inside and withdrawing from social activities, not exercising and becoming a couch potato, eating less fruit and vegetables, overeating comfort food, drinking alcoholic beverages and forgetting to drink water, resulting in poor hydration levels. Also, do not forget that wintry weather can be harsh on all types of skin.

Shorter days and longer nights result in a lack of sunshine and ultraviolet light exposure, lowering vitamin D and energy levels.

The beautifully coloured leaves covering the ground at this special time of year can also become a health hazard as the damp leaves harbor molds that can produce allergic reactions such as headaches, runny nose, itchy swollen eyes, bronchitis and asthma.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression disorder, also tends to surface in autumn/winter due to the lack of sunshine. To prevent the development of SAD, be proactive and get outside in natural daylight as much as possible.

Health checks for autumn

As the season for colds aproaches, here are some simple steps that can help you to stay well.

▪ First, have an annual check-up;
▪ Get a flu jab;
▪ The over-65s should book for pneumonia vaccination too; these last for 10 years and save lives;
▪ Get fit with regular exercise as this plays an important role in maintaining health. With autumn colours at their most impressive, now is a good time to commit to a daily walk.

The flu season is around the corner

Autumn brings shorter days and cooler evenings and it is the time that we start seeing people getting the flu.

Flu is a major killer for vulnerable people. Do not forget to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, to wash your hands often and to stay home if you get sick.

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory disease that infects the nose, throat and lungs, and can lead to serious complications, hospitalisation, or even death.

People aged 65 and over, and people with long-term health conditions, including diabetes and kidney disease, are particularly at risk.

Vaccination is the single best way to effectively protect you and your family from the flu and people should get vaccinated each year in the autumn.

Those who are six months and older should get an annual flu vaccine. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to develop full protection against the flu. 

Everyone needs a flu vaccine every flu season

Flu viruses are constantly changing, and each season different flu viruses can circulate and cause illness. Flu vaccines are made each year to protect against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common. Also, immunity from vaccination declines after a year. This is why everyone needs a flu vaccine every season.

The flu vaccine is safe, but there are people who cannot get the shot, mainly children younger than six months and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in it.

All those who are six months and older should get a flu vaccine this season with rare exception, but it is especially important for some people to get vaccinated:
▪ Children aged six months to four years old;
▪ People aged 50 and older;
▪ People with chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders including diabetes;
▪ People who are immunosuppressed by medications or by human immunodeficiency virus;
▪ Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season;
▪ People who are aged six months to 18 years and receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who, therefore, might be at risk of experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection;
▪ Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities;
▪ People who are morbidly obese (body-mass index is 40 or greater);
▪ Healthcare personnel;
▪ Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than five years old and adults aged 50 and older;
▪ Household contacts and caregivers of people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe complications from influenza.

I know it is sad that summer is in its last few days. The cooler autumn weather is coming but that does not mean you should enter a food and hibernation cycle until the first buds of spring blossom.

Enjoy the crisp air and the special autumn weather, and watch the beautiful colours of the leaves as they fall from the trees … while you fall into good habits!

Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice

By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve