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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

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

When it comes to making an appointment to see a doctor in France - even your GP - waiting times can be frustratingly long.

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

Back in 2000 a report by the World Health Organisation found France provided the “close to best overall healthcare” in the world.

But there is no doubt that it suffers from issues that mean patients don’t always have access to the healthcare they need.

How long patients have to wait is is one of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions, depending on a whole host of factors, notably where you live in France. As you’d expect, large urban centres attract more medics – but even these places are not immune from some serious healthcare issues.

According to data from international market research firm Ifop, more than 67% of French people have given up trying to make an appointment with their friendly neighbourhood doctor purely because of how long it takes to get an appointment.

The waiting time to consult a general practitioner varies between six to 11 days. It was only four days 10 years ago, according to the data.

The situation is not helped by the number of missed appointments. Le Parisien reported that an average of two appointments per doctor per day are missed. That may not sound much, but it amounts to 28million missed appointments annually – a workload the equivalent of 4,000 doctors.

At the same time, visits to hospitals’ emergency rooms are rising. Last year, 22million patients were treated by A&E doctors and nurses.

And, as more doctors retire, replacements are proving hard to come by. So-called “medical deserts” are a regular talking point in many rural areas of France – but residents in some areas of major cities are reportedly finding it increasingly difficult to register with a new médecin traitant when their long-standing family GP retires.

READ ALSO Medical deserts: Why one in three French towns do not have enough doctors

For an appointment with a specialist, expect to wait much longer. In France, you don’t need to see your GP before you make an appointment with a specialist medical professional, but most people do because it means the costs are more likely to be covered by state and “mutuelle” health insurance.

According to the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (DREES), getting an appointment to see an ophthalmologist involves an average wait of 190 days – more than six months. 

Dermatologist appointments can involve waits of between 60 and 126 days. As with other medical specialisms regional differences can be huge. In Paris, for example, the wait for an appointment with a dermatologist is at the lower end of the scale. But in rural areas where dermatologists are few and far between, it’s much longer.

Access to gynaecological care in France can also be difficult, taking between 44 and 93 days, or more than three months, to get a consultation, potentially critical time for anyone in need of cervical cancer screening, for example.

READ ALSO How France plans to transform its struggling health system

The wait for a cardiologist appointment in France, meanwhile, is in the average range of 50 to 104 days; a paediatrician’s consultation could involve waiting between 22 and 64 days; and a radiologists’ appointment ranges between 21 to 48 days.

Again these waiting times in big big urban centres like Paris or Lyon will likely be lower given the concentration of specialist doctors.

READ ALSO Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?

The good news is that the ability to make doctors’ appointments online – especially specialist appointments – is starting to cut waiting times. But it’s clear France still has a long way to go. And those tens of millions of missed appointments are a major problem.

The Union Française pour une Médecine Libre group has called on politicians to allow doctors to penalise patients who do not turn up for their consultations, while online booking service Doctolib is working on a public awareness campaign to highlight the problem. 

Recently a meeting was organised with doctors’ unions and patients’ associations to discuss possible remedies, such as sending a warning email patients. But the portal is unwilling to deny those who repeatedly miss appointments access – “That would hinder universal access to care,” it warned.

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