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Winter is coming: How to stay happy and healthy

It's easy to enjoy the summer when living in Europe. Warm days and late sunsets allow plenty of time to socialise, exercise and enjoy yourself. The colder months, however, are a slightly different proposition.

Winter is coming: How to stay happy and healthy
A jog a day: Regular walking or jogging not only increases fitness, but reduces your chances of suffering from seasonal illnesses. Photo: Getty Images

Autumn and winter mean shorter days, colder nights and often a range of health challenges. Not only are seasonal colds and flu circulating, but low temperatures and light levels make it more difficult to keep in shape, and moods dip. 

Together with international health insurance broker ASN, we identify proven ways in which you can stay fit, healthy and happy as the year draws to a close. 

Cold, coughs and flus – oh my! 

Avoiding the cold and flus that come with the cold weather can be difficult, but there are some things that you can do to minimise the risk, that go beyond washing your hands or wearing a mask. 

Clinical studies across the globe have demonstrated that regularly taking vitamin C, echinacea and (most importantly) zinc may boost the immune system’s defences, and in some cases prevent illness. 

For those with health issues such as hypertension, pre-existing respiratory or heart disease, seasonal viruses can be devastating. In these cases, doctors recommend a yearly flu vaccine. These protect against the yearly dominant strains and can vastly reduce the severity of illness, should you get sick. 

As Giovanni Bretti from ASN Customer Care tells us, “The good thing about international health insurance is that you can include or exclude benefits such as vaccinations and specialised respiratory care, tailored to your needs.”

ASN gives you the advice you need to get the best health insurance coverage possible, anywhere, any time

Ski, skate, cycle or spin

Of course, we know that you can minimise your odds of getting seriously ill by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a good level of fitness – but how do you keep that up when it’s dark and cold outside? 

Majuran Panchalingam, an International Insurance Consultant from ASN shares some tips: “When it starts to get cold outside, I mainly train indoors. Furthermore, I make everything ready the evening before. Skipping training becomes more difficult when I have already packed my training things.”

Also, something as simple as installing a free pedometer on your smartphone can help. Studies demonstrated it can increase average daily physical exercise by around 20 percent.

For those with a competitive streak, depending on which app you choose, you can receive detailed analysis on your walks or runs, including distance, speed and elevation.

An increasing number of apps also allow you to virtually ‘walk’ a set distance, such as the length of the Great Wall of China. Some even award a real medal or certificate upon completion. 

Regular exercise can also help prevent injury to muscles and joints but should you get hurt in an accident, such as slipping on an icy pavement, it’s important to seek medical assistance and specialised help as soon as you can. Some health insurance policies, like those arranged by ASN, will even give you free access to physiotherapists and other physical specialists. 

By dealing with problems as they occur, you can not only avoid more invasive treatment and possible mobility issues but also save on healthcare costs. Who doesn’t want that? 

ASN’s network of specialists can get you back on your feet after an accident or injury

Autumn splendour: Taking advantage of cool, dry weather to get outside and socialise with friends is an important part of staying healthy. Photo: Getty Images

Get out of the gloom 

The colder months don’t just impact physical health – they can have a remarkable effect on mental health as well. 

This is for a complex range of reasons. Some scientists have linked shorter days and longer nights to decreased serotonin production in the brain, while others have suggested it provokes changes in our circadian rhythms – our routines of wakefulness and sleep. Rather than be social and get out, we just want to sleep. 

What has been shown to work are two things: getting outside during the daylight hours, and the regular use of a sun lamp, available in many shops. Both can have the effect of fooling the brain into proceeding as normal, and avoiding a low mood. 

Internationals are especially susceptible to poorer mental health in the colder months, as they might find themselves isolated while those around them are celebrating the holiday season. It’s important to stay connected and socialise when possible. Many forums and websites for internationals regularly hold events to facilitate social interaction and this can be a great way to stay connected and make new friends.

If you do find yourself experiencing a persistent low mood, speaking to someone about the challenges you’re facing and receiving the proper support can help. 

Mental health therapies are usually covered in standard international health insurance plans. If you are working with a broker, such as ASN, they will do their best to support customers in their preferred language to find out what is covered and what kind of possibilities there are to find peace of mind again.

The best investment in your health

One of the best things an international living abroad can do to safeguard their health throughout the year, and especially in the darker months, is to consider an international health insurance policy. 

Such policies, like those brokered by ASN, give 24-7 access to a global network of doctors, specialists and other healthcare professionals who can provide the personal care you need, when you need it. Not only that, but if you need to be transported to your home country for specialised care, this may be covered by an international health insurance policy. 

These policies often also include coverage for preventative care, to help you avoid illness and mitigate conditions before they become chronic. 

Just as consistent exercise, taking advantage of social activities, and getting yearly flu shots are investments in your health through autumn and winter, an international health insurance policy can ensure you can make the most of your life abroad. 

Find out more about how ASN provides peace of mind for internationals 

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HEALTH

UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

We all know that too much sun can cause health problems, but there are particular places in Spain where the UV Index is higher than others and you need to be particularly careful. Read on to find out where.

UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

Spaniards and indeed foreign residents in Spain spend a lot of time in the sun, particularly at the beach in summer, and sunbathing is a popular pastime.

While it’s obviously not a good idea to be sunbathing during the hottest part of the day anywhere in Spain, there are some places that are worse than others.

When the sun shines, it emits radiation and one of the most dangerous is ultraviolet radiation. While ultraviolet radiation is not harmful in low doses, it can cause skin damage after long and intense exposure.

The UV Index measures the amount of ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface and alerts people to the risk that the sun poses to our health on a daily basis.

The Canary Islands have the highest UV Index out of all the regions in Spain, meaning that if you live there or are thinking of going on holiday there, you should take extra precautions in the sun.

A UV Index level of 8 to 10, as well as anything above 10 is considered to be very high and extremely dangerous.

The Canary Islands consistently record UV Index levels 2 or 3 points above the rest of Spain and in some parts of the day up to four points above.

UV Index levels change throughout the day and reach their highest from about 1pm – 4pm, when you have to take extra care.

For example, on Friday August 12th the UV Index for the hottest part of the day in most of mainland Spain hovers around 7-9, whereas in the Canary Islands it reaches 11-13.

According to Canarian dermatologist Dr. Paula Aguayo, one in five canaries could be at risk from skin cancer throughout their lives due to inadequate sun protection.  

She recommends that people in the Canary Islands avoid the sun between midday and 6pm, use broad-spectrum sunscreens which protect against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation and a sunscreen with a factor not lower than 30. “ In fact, it is preferable to use factor 50,” she says.

The regions in Spain that typically have the least amount of UV are located along the northern coast, places such as Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias and the Basque Country.

When the UV Index is anywhere from 6 upwards, experts recommend:

  • Avoiding direct sun exposure during the hottest part of the day and always keeping to the shade.
  • Wearing sunglasses with adequate UV protection as well as a hat.
  • Covering your skin and applying sunscreen with a high factor to the parts that are exposed. It is recommended to put cream on in the house before you go out into the sun and to always reapply it after swimming, even if it’s a waterproof sunscreen.
  • Drinking lots of water – In the sun and heat, the skin becomes dehydrated and this aggravates skin aging caused by ultraviolet rays.

Be sun safe even on cloudy days

The UV Index is usually lower on cloudy days, but even so, solar radiation can penetrate through the clouds.  According to scientists, even if the sky is completely covered, 40 percent of the sun’s radiation can still reach earth, so even if it doesn’t feel so hot, you still need to remember your sun protection.

Take extra care in the mountains  

Those heading to the mountains instead of the coast this summer should take extra care from the sun as the UV Index can reach its highest in places of high altitude and you risk being exposed to more radiation.

Mount Teide on the Canary Island of Tenerife and the highest mountain in Spain is one of the worst places for getting sunburnt. Up here, in summer there are around 12 hours of sun a day.

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