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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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NATURE

EXPLAINED: How to deal with wasps in Germany

The hot weather in Germany is good news for wasps, but not necessarily for people. Here’s what you need to know if you encounter the stinging critters this summer.

EXPLAINED: How to deal with wasps in Germany

Thanks to the persistently warm and dry weather across Europe this summer, wasp populations are on the rise, with pest controllers in France even dubbing 2022 ‘the year of the wasp’.

The peak of wasp season is still to come, however, as wasps tend to reach their maximum population between September and October. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with the stripy insects in Germany.

Is it illegal to kill wasps in Germany?

In short: yes. There are hundreds of wasp species in Germany, some of which are particularly endangered and are on the so-called “red list” of threatened animal and plant species.

Since they are a protected species, killing the insects is generally prohibited under the Federal Nature Conservation Act, and anyone who gets caught deliberately killing a wasp could face a hefty fine.

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia, a wasp-killer can face a fine of up to €50,000 while in Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the maximum fine is up to €20,000. In the other federal states, catching, injuring or killing wasps can cost up to €5,000.

In the case of a specially protected wasp species such as the gyroscopic or button horn wasp, fines range from €10,000 to €65,000, depending on the state.

Are wasps dangerous?

Though they may be somewhat pesky, biologists and nature activists generally agree that wasps aren’t dangerous, at least to those who are not allergic to their stings. They are typically not aggressive unless threatened and will tend to flee rather than fight.

It would also take at least 50 to 100 stings to actually overdose on wasp venom, but severe allergies and accidents (while running away from a swarm, for example) could be more dangerous.

How do I keep wasps at bay?

There are a few tried and tested tricks you can use to ward off wasps.

Firstly, as wasps are primarily attracted to meat and sweets, you should keep these foods well covered as much as possible.

Wasps don’t like getting wet, so having a water spray bottle on the picnic table can come in very handy for keeping the critters at bay. Don’t go overboard with the spray, though, and don’t be alarmed if the wasp doesn’t move for a while after you’ve given it a dousing. As soon as its wings are dry, the insect will fly off.

READ ALSO: How to deal with fruit flies (and other critters) plaguing your German flat

Distraction tactics also work well: a bowl of overripe fruit – such as grapes – placed at a safe distance can be a good way to keep wasps away from you. 

One homemade deterrent you can try is a lemon cut in half, sprinkled with a few cloves, which is a particularly unpleasant scent for the insects.

How should I react to wasps?

If the uninvited guests do join your barbecue or picnic, you shouldn’t panic. “Take it easy” is the best motto when dealing with the black-and-yellow insects.

You should avoid abrupt movements and not lash out or blow in the direction of the animal as exhaled carbon dioxide makes the normally calm animals aggressive, and do not try to hit them or make any sudden movements.

What if I find a nest?

First of all, keep your distance – ideally at least five metres. Nests can host thousands of wasps and they will become aggressive if they feel threatened.

According to the Species Protection Information of the Berlin Senate Department wasps are subject to general protection and may “only be controlled if there is a reasonable reason to do so.” In other words, finding a wasp nest in your house doesn’t necessarily mean you can call pest control to come and get rid of it. 

The German Nature Conservation Association (NABU) advises those who come across a nest to seek advice, either by getting in contact with them directly or with your local environmental agencies or nature conservation authorities.

What should I do if I get stung?

If you are unlucky enough to get stung by a wasp, the first thing to do is to carefully clean the puncture site. NABU also recommends cooling the sting site and treating it with insect creams which you can get from your local pharmacy.

READ ALSO: Ticks in Germany: How to avoid them and what to do if you get bitten

Alternatively, you can use the old homemade remedy of cutting an onion in half, making an incision so that the juice can escape more easily, and rubbing it into the puncture site. This not only has a cooling effect but can also act as a disinfectant and anti-inflammatory.

For allergy sufferers, however, a wasp sting can be very dangerous. NABU recommends that allergy sufferers always carry emergency medication with them and if in any doubt, go straight to the emergency department of the local hospital.

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