Keeping healthy

We are passionate about helping our patients, service users, their carers and everyone in our communities live their lives to their full potential. Having your health is an important element of this. Our staff are on hand to help advise people about how they can stay healthy. The pages below provide a huge range of information about keeping healthy, whether you are a child or a pensioner. 

Healthy eating

Despite what you see in some diet books and TV programmes, healthy eating can be really straightforward.

When it comes to a healthy diet, balance is the key to getting it right. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

A diet based on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta; with plenty of fruit and vegetables; some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and lentils; some milk and dairy foods; and not too much fat, salt or sugar, will give you all the nutrients you need.

Most adults in England are overweight or obese. That means many of us are eating more than we need, and should eat less. And it's not just food: some drinks can also be high in calories. Most adults need to eat and drink fewer calories in order to lose weight, even if they already eat a balanced diet.

Food groups in our diet

The eatwell plate shows that to have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to eat:

  • plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • plenty of starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
  • some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
  • some milk and dairy foods
  • just a small amount of food and drinks that are high in fat and/or sugar

Try to choose a variety of different foods from the four main food groups.

Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish and fibre. Read our page on understanding calories.

It's important to have some fat in your diet, but you don't need to eat any foods from the "foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar" group as part of a healthy diet.

Fruit and vegetables: getting your 5 a day

Fruit and vegetables are a vital source of vitamins and minerals. It is advised that we eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day.

There's evidence that people who eat at least five portions a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

What's more, eating five portions is not as hard as it sounds. Just one apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is one portion. A slice of pineapple or melon is one portion. Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion.

Having a sliced banana with your morning cereal is a quick way to get one portion. Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a tangerine, and add a side salad to your lunch. Have a portion of vegetables with dinner, and snack on dried fruit in the evening to reach your five a day.

Read our 5 A DAY page for more tips on how to get your five portions of fruit and veg.

Starchy foods in your diet

Starchy foods should make up around one third of everything we eat. This means we should base our meals on these foods.

Potatoes are a great source of fibre. Leave the skins on where possible to keep in more of the fibre and vitamins. For example, when having boiled potatoes or a jacket potato, eat the skin too.

Try to choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of starchy foods, such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta and brown, wholemeal or higher fibre white bread. They contain more fibre (often referred to as "roughage"), and usually more vitamins and minerals than white varieties.

Learn more from our starchy foods page.

Meat, fish, eggs and beans: good sources of protein

These foods are all good sources of protein, which is essential for the body to grow and repair itself. They are also good sources of a range of vitamins and minerals.

Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12. Try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat. Always cook meat thoroughly. Learn more by reading our page on meat.

Fish is another important source of protein, and contains many vitamins and minerals. Oily fish is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Aim for at least two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish. You can choose from fresh, frozen or canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can often be high in salt.

Eggs and pulses (including beans, nuts and seeds) are also great sources of protein. Nuts are high in fibre and a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat, but they do still contain high levels of fat, so eat them in moderation. Learn more from our pages on eggs and pulses and beans.

Milk and dairy foods: avoid full fat varieties

Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy.

To enjoy the health benefits of dairy without eating too much fat, use semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, as well as lower-fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and lower-fat yoghurt.

Learn more by reading our page on milk and dairy foods.

Eat less fat and sugar

Most people in the UK eat too much fat and sugar.

Fats and sugar are both sources of energy for the body, but when we eat too much of them we consume more energy than we burn, and this can mean that we put on weight. This can lead to obesity, which increases our risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke.

But did you know that there are different types of fat?

Saturated fat is found in foods such as cheese, sausages, butter, cakes, biscuits and pies. Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat, which can raise our cholesterol, putting us at increased risk of heart disease.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can help to lower cholesterol and provide us with the essential fatty acids needed to help us stay healthy. Oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oils and vegetable oils are sources of unsaturated fat.

Try to cut down on foods that are high in saturated fat and have smaller amounts of foods that are rich in unsaturated fat instead. For a healthy choice, use just a small amount of vegetable oil or reduced fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee. When having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat. Read on to find out how to eat less saturated fat.

For more information on fat and how to reduce the amount we consume in our diets, read fat: the facts.

Sugar occurs naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, but we don't need to cut down on these types of foods. Sugar is also added to lots of foods and drinks such as sugary fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, pastries, ice cream and jam. It's also contained in some ready-made savoury foods such as pasta sauces and baked beans.

Most of us need to cut down on foods high in added sugars. Instead of a fizzy drink, for example, try sparkling water. Have a currant bun as a snack instead of a pastry. Learn more from our page on sugars.

If you need to lose weight

Use the panel below to download the NHS weight loss guide, our popular free 12-week diet and exercise plan.

The plan, which has been downloaded more than 2 million times, is designed to help you lose weight safely - and keep it off.

Children and young people's health

Young people's health

You will find advice and support for young people in this signposting wellbeing guide

The Health for teens website has a constantly growing range of news and features helping young people stay fit and well. This includes items on bullying, sexual health, exercise and surviving exam stress.

Children's health

Any changes to your child's diet and lifestyle are much more likely to be accepted if they involve the whole family. Use these 10 tips to help the whole family embrace a healthier lifestyle:

Eat at the table together

Studies show families who have regular meals at the table with no distractions (such as television) are more likely to be a healthy weight.

Include children in family activities

Such as walking the dog, washing the car, mowing the lawn, or a family bike ride. They won't see it as exercise, just fun. More ideas for free family activities.

Ban "sweetened" drinks from the home

Persuade your children to drink water instead. Fizzy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, milky drinks with added sugar, and even 100% fruit juice are high in calories. Children tend to drink fewer sweet drinks when they're not freely available in the home. More about healthy drinks for children.

Make sure the whole family eats breakfast every day

Children who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat later in the day. If time is an issue, choose speedy yet healthy items such as peanut butter on wholemeal toast, or porridge and fruit. Inspiration for five healthy breakfasts.

Decrease screen time

Put physical activity in its place. Drag the kids away from the TV, computer and games console, and instead get active as a family by walking, cycling, going to the park or playground, or swimming together. Look here for 10 ways to get active with your children.

Get active on holiday

It's the perfect opportunity to get fit and have fun. You could try a specific activity-focused break, such as cycling or hiking, or choose a destination where you can do a variety of activities.

Many children love camping holidays. There's lots of scope for activity for children of all ages, from putting up the tent to nature hikes. Find out about family activity holidays. Try using the Change4Life activity planner to get children active during school holidays at home.

Prepare more meals at home

It may take a little longer, but this way you can control what you put in food. You can read food labels, use healthier ingredients, and control how much sugar and salt you use. Try these tasty, quick and healthy recipes for midweek meals.

Have healthier takeaways

You don't have to give up takeaways completely, just make smarter choices. For instance, have mushy peas with your fish and chips and don't eat all the batter around the fish. Order lower-fat pizza toppings like vegetables, ham and prawns instead of salami and four-cheese. And with Indian takeaways, go for tomato-based sauces such as madras instead of cream-based kormas and masalas. Find out more about healthier takeaways.

Avoid over-sized portions

Portion sizes have increased over the years and it's one of the reasons children become overweight. Start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they're still hungry. Avoid giving adult-sized plates to younger children - it can encourage them to eat too much.

Walk for charity

Doing regular charity walks is a great way for the whole family to get fit. Events are held across the country and are aimed at all ages, levels and abilities. Google "charity walks" to find local events.

Childhood illnesses

All children experience common illnesses like coughs, colds and chickenpox; they are all part of growing up. This  childhood-illnesses information leaflet  explains what to  do, what to look out for and where to get further help if needed or please click here to view this in an accessible version. 

Learning disabilities

Children with learning disabilites

If your child has a learning disability, there are lots of things you can do to help them learn. Local support services may be able to guide you along the way and help you work out how best to communicate to aid their learning.

Communicating clearly

If your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, you may be able to help their understanding and learning by:

  • Being very clear when you speak. Don't use long or complex sentences, words or instructions
  • Getting face-to-face with your child. Come to their level and make eye contact
  • Giving one-stage rather than two-stage instructions. Try ''Put on your coat'' rather than "Put on your coat and shoes so we can go out"
  • Reducing any clutter in a child's life. Instead of lots of toys to play with, give them two or three at a time. Encourage them to make clear choices, such as, "Would you like to play with the cat or the rabbit?"

Joining in with family life

Loving your child and including them in stimulating family life is the best thing you can do,  says Dr Martin Ward Platt (consultant paediatrician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne). Make sure that your child is growing up in a household where they are:

  • Included in plenty of conversation
  • Encouraged to communicate and participate in activities
  • Read to by you

Getting help and support for learning

Your GP or health visitor should be able to let you know about the support services in your area. This might include:

Herts mental health learning disability and autism collaborative

Amplifying the voice of those who may not be able to speak up for themselves can impact change.

The Hertfordshire mental health learning disability and autism collaborative has joined the work that it does with other health and social care partners like Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust (HCT) to encourage the continued championing of innovative ways to approach health and care services throughout Hertfordshire. 

HCT is proud to be a part of this work, and look forward to lending the strength of our services and expertise in health and care to the work ahead.

Learn more about the work the Hertfordshire mental health learning disability and autism collaborative is doing.

To learn more about HCT's mental health, learning disability, or autism services, please search for the relevant keyword in Our Services A-Z.


Protect against flu

Flu will often get better on its own, but it can make some people seriously ill. It's important to get the flu vaccine if you're advised to. There are three main ways of preventing flu:

  • Good hygiene, such as handwashing and cleaning
  • Annual flu vaccination
  • Antiviral medication.

Good hygiene

To reduce your risk of getting flu or spreading it to other people, you should always:

  • Make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water
  • Clean surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly to get rid of germs
  • Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

The flu vaccine

The annual flu vaccine can help reduce your risk of getting flu each year. It's not 100% effective because it doesn't work against every possible type of flu virus.

A flu vaccine is available for free on the NHS from a pharmacy if you are are aged 50 years or over, you have certain medical conditions, or you are pregnant.

The annual nasal spray is also now given to healthy children aged two, three and four years old, and to children in school years one, two and three by our school nurses.

The best time to have the vaccine is in the autumn, between September and early November.

How to treat flu yourself

If you have flu, here are some things you can do to help get better more quickly:

  • Rest and sleep
  • Keep warm
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)

Stay well this winter

It may be cold outside, but winter needn't be the unhealthiest time of year for you and your family. Here are some ways to make sure that, even when your body is telling you to hibernate, you can keep healthy and fit, no matter what the weather's like.

Eliminate your sleep debt

On average we sleep six-and-a-half hours a night, much less than the seven to nine hours recommended. However, in winter, we naturally sleep more because of the longer nights. According to The Sleep Council it's perfectly natural to adopt hibernating habits when the weather turns cold. They recopmmend using the time to catch up.

The Sleep Council, aims to raise awareness of the importance of a good night's sleep for health and wellbeing. Find out more about how to get a good night's sleep.

Drink more milk

You are 80% more likely to get a cold in winter, so making sure your immune system is in tip-top condition is important. Milk and dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are great sources of protein and vitamins A and B12.

They're also an important source of calcium, which helps keep our bones strong. Try to go for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk - rather than full-fat - and low-fat yoghurts. Find out more about milk and dairy foods and healthy eating.

Eat more fruit and veg

When it's cold and dark outside, it can be tempting to fill up on unhealthy comfort food, but it's important to ensure you still have a healthy diet and include five portions of fruit and veg a day.

If you find yourself craving a sugary treat, try a juicy clementine or satsuma instead, or sweet dried fruits such as dates or raisins.

Winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, swede and turnips can be roasted, mashed or made into soup for a comforting winter meal for the whole family. Explore varieties of fruit and veg that you may not normally eat. Find out more about  how to get your 5 A DAY and reciped for 10 warming hot meals.

Try new activities for the whole family

Don't use the cold winter months as an excuse to stay in and lounge around. Instead, get out with the whole family to try out a new activity - maybe ice skating, or taking a bracing winter walk on the beach or through the park.

Regular exercise helps control your weight, boost your immune system, and is a good way to break the tension that can build if the family is constantly cooped up inside the house.

Read more about different types of exercise for you and your family.

Have a hearty breakfast

Winter is the perfect season for porridge. Eating a warm bowlful on a cold morning isn't just a delicious way to start your day, it also helps boost your intake of starchy foods and fibre.

These give you energy and help you feel fuller for longer, stopping the temptation to snack mid-morning. Oats also contain lots of vital vitamins and minerals.

Make your porridge with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk or water, and don't add sugar or salt. Add a few dried apricots, some raisins, a sliced banana or other fruit for extra flavour and to help you hit your 5 A DAY target. Get more ideas for healthy breakfasts.


Getting active when you're over 60

Physical activity and exercise can help you stay healthy, energetic and independent as you get older.

Many adults aged 65 and over spend, on average, 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group. They're paying a high price for their inactivity, with higher rates of falls, obesity, heart disease and early death compared with the general population.

As you get older, it becomes even more important to remain active if you want to stay healthy and maintain your independence.

If you don't stay active, all the things you've always enjoyed doing and taken for granted may start to become that little bit harder.

You may struggle to pursue simple pleasures, such as playing with the grandchildren, walking to the shops, leisure activities and meeting up with friends.

You might start to get aches and pains that you never had before, and have less energy to go out. You may also be more vulnerable to falling.

This can all lead to being less able to look after yourself and do the things you enjoy.

Strong evidence

There's strong evidence that people who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia.

If you want to stay pain-free, reduce your risk of mental illness, and be able to go out and stay independent well into old age, you are advised to keep moving.

It's that simple. There are lots of ways you can get active, and it's not just about exercising.

"As people get older and their bodies decline in function, physical activity helps to slow that decline," says Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant. "It's important they remain active or even increase their activity as they get older."

Most people as they get older want to keep in touch with society - their community, friends and neighbours - and being active can ensure they keep doing that.

What is physical activity?

Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving. It can include anything from walking and gardening to recreational sport.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week.

Ideally, you should try to do something every day, preferably in bouts of 10 minutes of activity or more. One way of achieving 150 minutes of activity is to do 30 minutes on at least five days a week.

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include:

  • Walking fast
  • Water aerobics
  • Riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Pushing a lawn mower

Daily chores such as shopping, cooking or housework don't count towards your 150 minutes, because the effort isn't hard enough to raise your heart rate, although they do help break up sedentary time.

In addition to your 150 minutes target, try to do some activities that work your muscles. This can include:

  • Weight training
  • Carrying heavy loads
  • Heavy gardening

Find out how much activity older adults need to do to keep healthy.

As well as regular physical activity, try to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down during the day. This means avoiding long periods of TV viewing, computer use, driving, and sitting to read, talk or listen to music. Find out why sitting is bad for you.

Getting started

What you do will depend on your own circumstances, but as a guiding principle, it's a good idea to do activities that you enjoy.

If you're already active, you may find it useful to know that 75 minutes of vigorous activity over a week is as beneficial as 150 minutes of moderate activity.

Research shows that it's never too late to adopt and reap the health benefits from a more active lifestyle. For example, older adults who are active will reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke to a similar level as younger people who are active.

If you've been inactive for a while, you can build up your activity gradually to reach recommended levels. You'll still be improving your health in the process, and you'll reduce your risk of falls and other ailments.

"The biggest benefits come to those who start from scratch," says Dr Cavill. "It's moving from a sedentary lifestyle to a moderately active one that makes the biggest difference to your health. The more you do, the greater the health benefits."

The links below will give you more ideas on raising your activity levels: