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.”

Avoid worry and gloom this winter – get a quote on your international health insurance from ASN

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 gives you peace of mind in the colder months by finding you the best offers on international health insurance 

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. 

Take comprehensive control of your health this winter with a quote on international health insurance through ASN  

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More than prescriptions: 10 things you can do at a French pharmacy

From getting first aid and medical advice to taking tests, buying cosmetics and getting your mushrooms checked - there's a surprising amount you can do in a French pharmacy.

More than prescriptions: 10 things you can do at a French pharmacy

Pharmacies are common place in France, with their bright green signs that illuminate many of country’s street corners, but you might not have realised how multi-functional they are.

While you won’t be able to buy snacks or sandwiches at the pharmacy (French pharmacies are not akin to corner shops as some are in the US and UK), they are not just for picking up your latest prescription or buying a box of bandaids.

There are several different things you can do at French pharmacies, and luckily for you, there are a lot of them.

In fact, France is home to about 21,000 pharmacies, according to data from 2017, with about 33 pharmacies per 100,000 people.

The pharmacists who run these establishments are also highly-qualified people, who are able to provide a wide range of services besides simply giving you your medicine. Most have done around six to seven years worth of schooling, and they are generally the best place to start if you are looking for some routine medical assistance. By law, all French pharmacies must have at least one fully qualified pharmacist on the premises.  

Here are all the things you can do there;

Get your wild mushrooms checked

If you are out foraging for mushrooms, and you want to err on the side of caution, then simply take your haul to the pharmacy. All pharmacists in France receive training in mycology – or the study of fungi – so they are qualified to tell you whether a mushroom is toxic or not. This will certainly help prevent any unforeseen disasters when cooking your next “gratin de champignons.”

Get your latest vaccination (not just a flu or Covid shot)

Previously, getting a regularly scheduled vaccination in France – like one for tetanus or Hepatitis – could be time consuming as you needed to visit your doctor for a prescription, get the prescription from the pharmacy and then take it back to the doctor who would actually administer the injection. Only vaccines for seasonal flu, Covid-19 and monkeypox could be administered by pharmacists, but as of November 7th that changed.

Pharmacists became authorised to administer vaccines and boosters, as required, for the “human papillomavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, invasive pneumococcal infections, hepatitis A and B viruses, meningococcal serogroups A, B, C, Y and W and rabies.”

Nevertheless – all of the newly authorised vaccines still require a prescription, which patients (who must be over the age of 16) will need to show proof of prior to vaccination.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why does France have so many pharmacies?

Receive medical advice 

Picked up a stomach bug while visiting France? Got a cough that just won’t go away? Or cut your hand and unsure whether you need stitches? The pharmacy might be the best place to visit first. French pharmacists are all trained professionals, and they are qualified enough to let you know whether you are suffering from something that will require further medical attention, or whether your treatment can be found in the pharmacy itself. 

So, if you have any confusion around whether you should see a doctor, go to a hospital, or simply take some paracetamol and rest, the French pharmacist is a great person to ask. 

While pharmacy hours vary, there will always be at least one “pharmacie de garde” open all day and night near you. Simply google pharmacie de garde along with your location to see where it can be found.

Get over-the-counter medicines

In France over-the-counter medications such as indigestion medicines, cold and flu remedies and general painkillers like Tylenol or Nurofen (usually sold under the brand name Doliprane in France) are only available in pharmacies.

Supermarkets and other general stores are banned from selling them. 

Buy cosmetics

When walking into the pharmacy, you might also notice a giant wall of skincare items. From face washes to lotions and serums, you will be able to pick through many different hygiene items. Next you might turn to the perfume section, where several fancy-looking glass bottles line the shelves. If you are out of mascara or eye-liner, you can find that at the pharmacy too. 

Don’t be afraid to ask the pharmacist’s advice too – if you are worried a certain face wash would be bad for dry skin, the pharmacist will likely be able to point you in the right direction.

Receive care

Many pharmacists across France are able to carry out basic first aid. If you need help bandaging a cut or scrape, have a nasty burn that needs dressing or assistance with your blood pressure monitoring, then you can always walk into a pharmacy and ask for help.

Additionally, if you are looking for help with how to take the medication prescribed – for instance with administering your own insulin injection – pharmacists are trained to help.

If it’s beyond their level of expertise, they will also be able to direct you to the best place to go. 

Buy homeopathic medicines

French pharmacies do not only contain conventional medicines – most have a wide variety of vitamins and homeopathic remedies as well. From vitamins and supplements like cod liver oil to essential oils to neti pots to help clear your nose, French pharmacies carry plenty of alternative, natural treatments too. 

You could also find a remedy for the distinctly French malady of ‘heavy legs’

Prescribe (some) medications

In France, pharmacists are able to prescribe medications for a few specific conditions. First, pharmacists are permitted to issue renewals for medication against seasonal allergies, in patients aged 15 to 50 years old.

Next, they can perform short consultations and prescribe medicine for cold sores, eczema, and conjunctivitis.

If you are a woman aged 16 to 65 and you are experiencing a urinary tract infection, then the pharmacist can also prescribe treatment for you, under certain conditions. As long as the UTI is not recurrent and you do not have a fever or lumbar pain, then the pharmacist may be able to provide you with an antibiotic treatment.

READ MORE: Why do the French love medication so much?

Finally, depending on a patient’s pain and how well they are recovering to an illness or procedure, pharmacists are also authorised to adjust the dosage of some treatments, such as anti-inflammatory drugs.

Perform certain tests

As of January 1st, 2022, pharmacists in France have been able to perform strep throat (angine in French) tests. This consists of a small swab of the throat to verify whether the illness is viral or bacterial, in an effort to avoid the over-prescription of antibiotics. However, you will want to ask your pharmacist if they have the materials to perform the test, because not all pharmacies keep them on hand. 

You can also get a Covid-19 test at French pharmacies, usually without having to make an appointment.

Return extra medications you have lying around

Expired or unused medicines can be returned to your nearest pharmacy – all pharmacies in France are required to take back this medication. You can either give the medicine directly to your pharmacist, or in some cases you can drop them in the dedicated box for these purposes. 

This is actually a recommended practice, as most medicines should be disposed of in a specific manner.

You don’t need to bring back the packaging or instructions along with the medication – simply take the treatment itself.

Keep in mind you won’t be able to return used syringes and needs, or aerosols and sprays, or cosmetic products.