UQ experts reveal their top tips for keeping your kids healthy this winter

Parents are busy enough, so to help minimise sickness this winter and get the most out of your family time together, we’ve asked experts from across UQ for their top tips on keeping healthy and warm this winter.

1. Take a moment to look after yourself

Dr Julie Bower from the UQ School of Education, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences is the chief trainer in the Mindfields Program, a social and emotional well-being program for teachers and school students.

Dr Bower said taking a moment for yourself, especially if you are a parent or teacher looking after children is really important, as it’s difficult to pour from an empty cup.

“Looking after yourself doesn’t need to be expensive or encompass grand strategies. It can be as simple as slowing down and centring yourself before moving forward,” she said.

Dr Bower recently completed Mindfields training with 40 busy high school teachers, where her team highlighted the importance of the teachers taking time for themselves while looking out for their student’s well-being.

“As they learned about looking after the social and emotional well-being of their students, we also had them stop and close their devices, to spend valuable face-to-face time with colleagues and to reconnect with the reasons they became teachers.”

“They learned how to relieve their own stress through breathing deeply and checking their thoughts.”

“They also took important time to plan, support and collaborate with their colleagues in a meaningful and purposeful way.”

 

2. Remember to keep your family's vaccinations up-to-date

Dr Sumaira Hasnain from the UQ Faculty of Medicine and Mater Research Institute-UQ said that the best form of protection from winter sickness was prevention in the form of vaccination.

“Our immune system can protect you from dangerous pathogens, but sometimes it can get overwhelmed,” said Dr Hasnain.

“Our immune system can remember a pathogen for years and the second time it comes in contact with the same pathogen it can fight it off faster and more effectively. So rather than waiting to get sick, we can train our immune system to protect you from particular pathogens by vaccinating.

“Vaccines are the most cost-effective and efficient medicines ever used and save billions of lives every year.  They have eradicated smallpox and limited the spread of common diseases. From both direct and societal perspective, vaccinating will result in substantial cost saving. Overall, preventing unnecessary suffering, hospitalisation, disabilities and even deaths.

“However, four million Australians are still not vaccinated against preventable disease.”

“Vaccination rates need to be 95 per cent or above to keep the pathogens under control in a population. So, if everyone were to be vaccinated, then the risk to those with weaker immune systems (including pregnant women, infants and people aged 65 or over) would also be significantly reduced.

“The science is clear, vaccines work, and they are safe!”

 

3. Make sure your family get enough rest and leisure time

Dr Shane Pegg from the UQ School of Business, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law who specialises in leisure and its implications for mental health said ensuring your family makes time for activities they enjoy will positively influence their health.

“While most would acknowledge that “good health” or a “quality of life” are important considerations, many would also readily agree that they do not always do a good job of looking after themselves,” Dr Pegg said. 

“At different times of the year, and particularly when work and family pressures impose, those much desired components of our existence that give us a sense of balance and self-worth are often sacrificed.

“For instance, involvement in leisure is often one of the first areas compromised despite the fact that participation in meaningful activities offers a buffer from life stressors and is an important coping resource for dealing with life’s many challenges.

“Apart from the acknowledged physical benefits of leisure involvement, including lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, participation in leisure has also been found to positively contribute to an individual’s mental well-being.

 “In terms of longer-term health benefits, those who regularly engage in leisure activities have been found to have better social support and friendship patterns, have a better sense of self-identity and generally report a higher level of life satisfaction overall.

“The evidence is in fact so strong for why we should be regularly participating in leisure activities it should not be a question of will we but rather, when can we start. “

 

4. Keep viral infections at bay by following the following tips

Professor John Upham from UQ Diamantina Institute, Princess Alexandra Hospital Southside Clinical Unit and Faculty of Medicine said people could take steps to avoid contracting viral infections.

“Winter is the time of the year when virus infections effect so many people,” said Professor Upham.

“Rhinoviruses which are responsible for the common cold can make us miserable and put us in bed for a day or two. However, for those with asthma the consequences can be more severe, perhaps leading to an asthma attack and a trip to hospital.

“Influenza is prone to spread in epidemics, and in some years, even healthy people can develop severe influenza pneumonia.”

“Thankfully, there are a few things we can do to avoid winter virus infections:

  • Viruses are spread both by inhalation and by touch, so hand washing is important, especially when you are around others with an infection;
  • For people with asthma it is important that their disease is kept under good control. Those with poor asthma control are most vulnerable to virus infections, so a check-up with your doctor is recommended at the beginning of winter;
  • Have a yearly influenza vaccine - this is especially important for those who have frequent contact with large numbers of people, or for those with chronic health problems.”

 

5. Choose healthy food options

Dr Nima Gunness, from the UQ’s Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) said choosing the right foods in winter and throughout the year can improve your health and lessen the risk of chronic disease.

“Oats have been a winter breakfast staple for years, but they can also reduce the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream and therefore lower the risk of heart disease,” Dr Gunness said.

“There is good evidence that three grams or more of oats beta glucan consumption a day can help reduce cholesterol levels and therefore help our kids maintain healthy hearts,” Dr Gunness said.

 

6. Keep everyone warm the sustainable way

Professor Hal Gurgenci from the UQ School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology said there are ways of keeping warm that are healthier for the environment.

“How do you keep the winter chill away?  Many Queenslanders do not think about winter until it really gets cold.  Then they go to and buy an electrical heater.  This may not be the most sustainable way of dealing with the winter chill.

“Since Queensland winters are very mild and our summers are hot, we usually design our houses to keep the summer heat away but do not invest keeping them warm during winter.  There is no point in over investing but it is worth going through the following list of passive and active measures:

Passive measures

  • “Check the seals around your window frames seal it if there are openings.  You want to have your hall breezy only when you open your windows not otherwise;
  • It may be useful in putting in roof insulation if you have not done so already.  This will be useful in summer and winter;
  • Keep the doors closed on unused rooms;
  • Wear appropriate clothing.  If you feel chilly, first put a jumper on before thinking of turning on the heater.  If you only need to heat your knees while studying, then do not heat the whole room, wear leg warmers.”

Active Measures

  • “Do not use your oven or stove to heat the interior.  It is inefficient and dangerous;
  • Invest in reverse cycle air conditioning instead of using electrical resistive heating.  Reverse cycle air conditioning uses electricity to extract heat from the outside.  Every kilowatt-hour of electricity will generate 3-4 kilowatt-hour of heat.  With resistive heating, you spend one kilowatt-hour of electricity to get one kilowatt-hour of heat.  There is no heat pump multiplier effect.  Therefore, the heat from reverse cycle A/C is cheaper;
  • It is even better if you have solar panels installed on your roof. Then you can run your reverse cycle A/C during the day on free electricity.”

 

Disclaimer: eNews articles are intended to provide general commentary and general information only. They are not intended as professional advice or as a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. They are the work of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the University or involve the recommendation or endorsement of the University.