The problem of how to keep well in winter can only be solved by attention to health in the home. So many people are ill who need not know the meaning of illness. There are the children who contract colds and catarrhs ; the business men who have to stop work on account of influenza ; the women who are miserable from ill-health all the winter, who might all be fit and healthy if more intelligent attention were paid to winter hygiene in the home.
An unhealthy atmosphere is far too prevalent in English homes in winter. Perhaps we have the idea that we must keep warm at all hazards, and by acting on this assumption we over-coddle ourselves into chronic ill-health. A stuffy house is the direct cause of illness, because if people do not breathe pure, enough cold air the lungs and respiratory passages deteriorate in health.
If we lived out of doors all the time, protected only from wet and discomfort by a rough shelter, we would never contract colds at all. " Cold " is a disease of civilisation, and the housewife who is educated up to the idea of keeping her house rather too cold than too hot is working on the right lines. If we are busy, we generate heat. If we sit about doing nothing, we deserve to catch cold.
Many mothers make the mistake of keeping their nurseries too hot, so that the children contract cold out of doors from the sudden change of temperature. Big fires are not necessarily unhealthy so long as the windows are kept well open, but when fires are blazing and windows are shut we invite illness into the home.
The hygienic housewife must understand once and for all that cold winter air is not harmful, but beneficial to health. Colds and catarrhs do not find their way into the house where open windows all the year round are the rule, and where the inmates have undergone a sensible amount of hardening, so as to make them resistant to cold. So let the housewife open the windows in every room of the house, and keep them open all day, and partly open, at least, all night. This is one of the first essentials in the healthy home.
A good fire will keep the room from being unduly chilly, and draughts can be avoided by seeing that doors are properly fitted, and that any crevices admitting draughts near the floor are filled up. A draught along the floor is not a good thing, especially where there are old people and young children. Although the windows are open, it does not follow that there need be draughts at all if screens are arranged so as to protect those who are sensitive to cold currents of air.
It may be said as a dietetic axiom that diet should be varied every three months according to the season. The diet that is suit-able and right in midsummer is insufficient for the body's needs in winter, when we must generate sufficient heat from the oxidation of our food to withstand the external temperature. Heat-producing foods are necessary, especially for the shivery, chilly people who heap garment after garment upon themselves in order to keep warm. We require more fat in the dietary in winter, and the English breakfast of ham and eggs is an excellent winter dish for those who go out of doors in the morning in winter, and cannot get another meal until one o'clock at the very earliest.
A Nourishing: Diet
A good, solid, hot breakfast is a very valuable health asset in winter. A plate of porridge and milk, or, better still, porridge and cream, may be taken first, especially in the nursery. Indeed, one of the most pleasant methods of taking " fat " is in the form of cream. Children who will not take fat meat will generally take cream like a kitten, and we are apt to regard this food too much as a luxury.
Foods that are especially suitable for lunch or dinner consumption in winter are lentils, beans, and peas, made into good soups or purees. Well-made suet puddings also supply animal fat in a palatable form to many people. Children can be given butter as a fat, and they should have thin bread well buttered at every meal. Cocoa should be served for breakfast several days a week, as it contains quite 50 per cent, of fat, whilst tea is not in any sense a nourishing beverage. Milk puddings, sweet cakes, potatoes, etc., may be eaten more freely in winter than in summer, especially if we take a good deal of outdoor exercise.
Those who are working hard all day are often better with their chief meal in the evening, and a somewhat lighter lunch, as a certain amount of quiet and rest are necessary if digestion is to be complete. It is foolish, for example, to hurry through a three-course meal, and rush back to work at once. A small, light lunch is easily digested, and it is only what we digest and assimilate that nourishes us.
It is for the housewife to regulate the daily menu so as to supply food that is nourishing, suitable for winter, and varied. By studying dietetics, and understanding a little of the chemistry of food, she will very soon be able to give the best and most suitable menus with the minimum expense. The hygiene of food is one of the chief questions to be studied in the home during the winter. If people are properly fed with the right sort of food, their vitality is kept up, and they are far less likely to contract chills and infectious diseases. A cup of hot soup or hot milk will ward off a chill, and anyone coming home tired, cold, and shivery will find a liquid, non-alcoholic stimulant of this description immediately beneficial.
The housewife also must superintend the family clothing if she is to keep her household healthy in winter. It is important, for one thing, that children are adequately dressed, that they wear warm woollen stockings, not socks, and that woollen combinations are the rule in the nursery. If the body and legs are protected by woollen combination garments, the texture of the other items of dress is of less consequence.
Insufficient clothing accounts for a fairly large number of deaths and serious illnesses in winter, but the same thing is true of over-clothing. When people wear too heavy and too many garments, they get overheated, and then perspire. Heavy overcoats, for example, are responsible for a good many colds in winter, because people wear them at the wrong time. There is not the slightest need if we are walking or exercising in any way to attire ourselves in greatcoats. They simply produce overheat and fatigue, and it is when bathed in perspiration that chill is most likely to occur from the contact of the damp clothing against the skin. If, however, our clothing is porous, the risk of chill is less, as the moisture evaporates from the skin and passes through the clothes.
In the healthy home there should be a standing rule that all damp boots and stockings are changed on coming indoors. This will not only affect the health of the individual, but will keep the house cleaner and more free from dust and microbes. The Japanese are horrified by the fact that we walk straight from the street on to our carpets in muddy boots. They always remove their outer footgear before entering a house, and thus their homes are beautifully clean and hygienic. The English housewife might take a lesson from them. Our heavy floor-coverings, for example, simply harbour dust and mud, and the germs of disease. The home would be much healthier if it were less heavily furnished.
How many people have twenty, or even more, pictures in a room where three or four are sufficient! How many housewives litter their bedrooms with books, ornaments, photographs, nicknacks of all sorts, which make hygienic cleanliness impossible! The result is that we sleep in rooms where invisible dust and invisible microbes are floating in the air. Bedroom fires add to the dust, but they serve a useful purpose in facilitating ventilation.
A gas fire is almost a feature of our English winter life, and it is open to many objections from the health point of view. When it is not in good condition, it pollutes the air with gases which poison the respiratory system, causing headache, nausea, and breath-lessness in many people. Even when working perfectly, the gas fire dries the atmosphere to such an extent that the lungs do not get their requisite amount of moisture in the air, and the skin is dried up.
The great convenience of gas fires makes them appeal to many housewives, and one must acknowledge that they ,are extremely useful where domestic service is limited. It must be said in their favour, also, that they cause less dust than the ordinary coal fire. But the housewife must take certain precautions when she installs them into the home.
In the first place, she must see that they are working properly, and not emitting undesirable gases.
Secondly, every room which contains a gas fire requires to be very carefully ventilated, and no one should sit in a room with gas fires if the door and window are closed, as they use up so much oxygen.
Stoves are not very much used in this country, for living-rooms, at any rate. They are apt to make the rooms too hot and dry, and are not to be compared with the open fire.
Regular cleaning is a hygienic measure the housewife must not forget if she is to keep the home healthy in winter. The lack of sunshine and the dark days make dust less visible, but it is present all the same. A modified " spring-cleaning " once a month is a more important measure than people realise. Each room should be turned out thoroughly every two or three weeks, and if the housewife regulates the work this matter can be arranged, even when domestic servants are not plentiful.