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.

Faced with these rising 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.

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

Senior lady holding a mug while wrapped up in a thick blanket -Credit: Shutterstock/Fizkes
Keeping warm is essential for your health

What happens to our bodies in the cold?

The big chill

“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’.”

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.


How do our bodies keep us warm?

Keep your core balanced

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

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.

What month should you turn the heating on?

If you’re not sure when to turn the heating on this winter, the general rule of thumb is by governed by the outdoor temperature, not the time of year.

Martyn Bridges, technical director of marketing communications at Worcester Bosch, says: “Temperatures that are constantly below 15°C-16°C (59°F-61°F) throughout the day tend to make people feel cold.”

What’s the minimum ideal temperature?

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.

Heat the rooms you use

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 less often by turning down the radiator and keeping doors closed.

1. Exercise to keep warm

Get moving!

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.”

There are plenty of exercises you can do at home, meaning you can stay warm and boost your mood at the same time. And even if you don’t fancy going for an all-out cardio workout or strength training, simple stretches will get you moving and improve your flexibility too.

2. Wear more layers

Choose thin layers over thick

Feet in cosy socks on a woollen hot water bottleCredit: Shutterstock/New Africa
Keep your feet nice and snug will help keep your core temperature up

Keep yourself snug and put on more clothes on top of one another. Wearing several thin items of clothing – including some thin thermal layers – 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.


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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 fingers warm with gloves – fingerless ones are best if you need to do stuff around the house – and toes toasty with socks and slippers.

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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.

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3. Keep draughts out

This is the cheapest way to keep warm

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.

Draughty windows letting cold air in and warm air out? There are inexpensive ways to insulate your windows – all of which you can do yourself. One of those is by simply closing your curtains.  According to research at the University of Salford, doing this 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.

4. Let your radiators breathe

Allow warm air to circulate

When it comes to how to arrange a living room for maximum warmth, avoid placing furniture in front of radiators. Large items like sofas and bookcases will absorb the heat instead of allowing it to circulate freely in your home. This means you’ll need the heating on for longer, which will up the cost.

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.

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Need 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.

As well as the £600 winter fuel payment, 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


With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman 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.