How to keep warm for less – and why it matters to your health

With winter upon us, the colder climate can play havoc with our health. But it can be a tough call to turn up the heating when energy prices are soaring.

So why is staying warm important to protect our health and how can we achieve it without bumping up our energy bills?

Woman smiling and holding a mug in a living room settingCredit: Shutterstock/fizkes

The big chill

Faced with rising energy prices it’s no surprise that many people are holding back on turning up the thermostat. But research shows it comes at a cost to our health.

“The current cost of living crisis is likely to have more people exposed to cold homes”, says Professor George Havenith, thermal physiology specialist at Loughborough University.

“We know from periods with fuel poverty in the last century that there is increased mortality in the elderly who live in colder homes (often very cold bedrooms).

“In colder rooms, the skin closes its blood vessels to preserve heat. This increases blood pressure and through this stimulates urine loss and dehydration. That leads to more stress on the heart and the blood gets ‘thicker’.”

Woman wearing comfy jumper holding a mugCredit: Shutterstock/macondo

But what does this all mean? As your blood thickens it works harder to flow around your body, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  

According to Havenith, as we get older, our behaviour changes too, as our reaction to feeling the cold is less effective. It means we don’t reach for that extra layer of clothing as soon as we should.  We also tend to be less active, meaning we need more heat to keep warm.

There are particular groups that need to take extra care during the colder months, as they are more vulnerable to changes in their bodies. This especially includes people with long-term health conditions.

Keep your core balanced

The key to keeping warm is controlling our internal thermostat. Our ideal core temperature is 37°C – this magic number refers to the perfect temperature for our cells, organs and blood to function optimally.

This is different to our peripheral, or surface temperature, which is a measurement of our skin and often a couple of degrees lower than our core temperature.

Our internal thermostat works to keep our core temperature at a constant level – this is known as thermoregulation. The process is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain that works as an internal temperature sensor, detecting when we’re too hot or too cold.

When it senses an imbalance it sends out a signal to get us back on track. Our body responds by sweating to cool down or shivering to warm up.

Although the hypothalamus is pretty smart at regulating body temperature, if it drops by 2°C it’s serious. Hypothermia sets in – an urgent medical condition that must be treated at once.

So, how can you beat the chill and protect your health without ramping up your thermostat?

Taking control of the temperature

It’s tempting to turn down the heat to save money on your energy bills, but cutting the temperature by too much can have a detrimental effect on your health.

According to the Centre for Sustainable Energy, a room temperature of below 13°C may increase your blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. While a temperature of 14-15°C can impact your resistance to respiratory diseases.

To avoid any potential health issues Age UK recommends heating your main living space to a steady 21°C. When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, the Sleep Foundation advise a bedroom temperature of 18°C – if the room is 12°C or below, you’ll find it difficult to drop off.

When the climate is cold it’s important to keep yourself warm, so heat the rooms you live in. You can always cut back on spare rooms or spaces you use for storage by turning down the radiator and keeping doors closed.

Woman wrapped in a soft pink blanket holding a mug in bedCredit: Shutterstock/goodluz

Exercise to keep warm

One way to keep our core body temperature stable is to exercise. Even when it’s too cold to go outside, there are plenty of ways to keep moving inside.

Julie Ward, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), warns: “If you have a heart or circulatory condition, it’s extra important to stay warm in winter. If you feel your symptoms are worse when it’s cold, stay inside on the coldest days if you can, and exercise indoors.”

The charity also offers ideas on how to get active while at home, meaning you can stay warm and boost your mood at the same time. And if you fancy a stretch, we have a few exercises that will get you moving and improve your flexibility too.


Layer up

Keep yourself snug and put on more clothes on top of one another. Wearing several thin items of clothing will keep you much warmer than one thick jumper, as warm air gets trapped between the layers and acts as an insulator. Then once you’re warm, you can shred one layer and still feel comfortable.

Don’t forget about your fingers and toes. Your hands and feet can often feel colder than your core, as it takes longer for your blood to travel to these limbs. Keep those toes toasty with socks and slippers.

Footwear specialist, Mahabis, recommends slippers with a wool lining that will help regulate the temperature of your feet. However, the company advises avoiding slippers that are too tight – as they’ll restrict blood flow, making your feet colder.

Feet in cosy socks on a woollen hot water bottleCredit: Shutterstock/New Africa

Draught it out

Keeping draughts at bay is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to prevent heat loss at home, according to the Government’s Help for Households campaign.

Check for gaps under doors, between floorboards and around chimneys and block them up to keep the heat in and the cold out.

According to research at the University of Salford, closing your curtains at night can reduce heat loss by around 15%-17%, and by 13%-14% for blinds. It’s well worth pulling them at night to prevent warm air escaping, but open them in the morning to let the heat back in.

Let your radiators breathe

To allow the heat to circulate freely in your home avoid placing furniture in front of radiators. Large items like sofas and bookcases will absorb the warmth and you’ll need the heating on for longer.

If you’re limited with space, pull the furniture away from the wall by 15cm. With the heat free to flow, it’ll reduce the amount it costs to heat a room.

Take the opportunity to rearrange your furniture and achieve a whole new look that’s saving you energy – and then consider using radiator reflector foil (placed artfully out of site) behind your radiators to maximise their heating potential.

Get support to stay warm

With the rising cost of living more of us are turning to support to keep our homes warm and reduce our energy bills.

You could be eligible to receive assistance through the Government’s Help To Heat schemes. Citizens Advice also has information on grants and benefits to help you pay your energy bills.

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


Camilla Sharman is a Staff Writer at Saga Exceptional. Camilla has worked in publishing and marketing for over 30 years and has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  

As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader. 

It was when she started her family that her freelance career evolved. Having moved into a period house two days before her first son was born, she had the perfect opportunity to combine working from home with writing about her own house renovation projects. Apart from appearing on the cover of Your Home magazine, Camilla’s written for Ideal Homes, Real Homes, House Beautiful, and kitchen and bathroom business magazines.  

It was inevitable that her interest in all things homes would lead her to writing home interest features. As a young girl she had the earliest version of Pinterest – a scrap book full of home inspiration images cut from magazines.  

In her spare time, when she’s not in her kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, you’ll find her keeping fit at the gym. In the pool, stretching at a yoga class, or on a spin bike, exercise is her escape time. She also loves the great outdoors and if she’s not pottering about in her garden, she’ll be jumping on her bike for a gentle cycle ride.  

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