Winter’s coming, and with it comes a host of health-related issues. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the good things this season offers and recognize, cope with and avoid the bad.
“An emphasis on hand hygiene is the single most important measure for the prevention of infection in the winter months, when influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory viruses are circulating … and really at any time.” said Patricia Burns, infection control coordinator for St. Elizabeth Healthcare. If you haven’t thought about how you wash your hands since you first learned as a child, Burns offers this refresher:
Wash them frequently, using soap and water, covering all surfaces and using friction for 15-20 seconds. If using a waterless hand hygiene product, follow instructions for amount and rub into hands until the product is absorbed.
Don't get SAD
Less daylight can bring on winter depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
“It’s more than the ‘winter blues’ or ‘cabin fever’ when the symptoms consistently last for more than two weeks or they are associated with hopelessness, suicidal thoughts or cause impairment in one’s day-to-day functioning,” said Dr. John Hawkins, chief of psychiatry, deputy chief of research and medical director of Brain Imaging Center at the Lindner Center of Hope in Mason. “Many people can get down in the dumps when it’s cold and gray outside, and some want to linger in bed a bit longer or just hang out more often. But Seasonal Affective Disorder goes beyond that. People who have this disorder experience very real, serious symptoms of depression.”
Symptoms include: Depressed mood; irritability; hopelessness; anxiety; loss of energy; social withdrawal; oversleeping (feeling like you want to hibernate); heavy, “leaden paralysis” feelings in arms and legs; loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy; appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates such as pastas, rice, bread and cereal; weight gain; and difficulty concentrating.
Seek enjoyment: “Instead of dreading the cold and the snow or the damp drizzle, reframe this as a time to enjoy those DVR shows or books that you’ve been meaning to get to while you enjoy a nice cup of tea.
Exercise and eat well
Let light in via windows
Participate in stress management classes
Seek professional help if:
The depressed mood/lack of enjoyment and other symptoms last more than two weeks
You have thoughts of suicide or are not attending to important responsibilities (e.g. missing work or school)
You have a history of depression or bipolar disorder
Dr. George Shaw, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati, lists these as the most common injuries during the winter months and offers advice on avoiding them.
Slips and falls: These can be especially dangerous for the elderly, who can sustain hip fractures. “We get a lot of black ice in Cincinnati, so even if you don’t think your porch is covered, be careful.”
Car accidents: Exercise care while driving, and wear your seat belt. Keep an emergency kit in your car, stocked with a small shovel, flashlight, water and cat litter (to be used for traction) – and be sure to activate the GPS signal on your cell phone in case you get stuck. “Don’t go wandering away from your car if you’re out in the middle of nowhere,” Shaw says. The safest place to be is in your car, waiting for help.
Snow blowers:Shaw said he’s seen at least one partial hand amputation – and some lost fingers – from people reaching in to clear out a snow blower while it’s still running. “Turn off the snow blower if you’re going to clean it out.”
Hypothermia: This is most common in people who’ve been drinking, because “when you drink alcohol, one of the things that gets impaired is your temperature sense.” When you’re outdoors, dress in layers for warmth, and drink responsibly. And stay dry – being wet increases the rate at which a person can become hypothermic.
For those who prefer to exercise in the great outdoors, winter weather can put their routine into a deep freeze.
“Winter is probably the time you need to keep the exercise habit going the most to combat winter fatigue and weight gain,” said Gretchen Aberg, fitness director at Mercy Health/Anderson and a lifestyle and weight management coach. She offers these tips for cold-weather workouts.
Dress in layers: “It will take a little longer to warm up the body in the cold, so you want to start out with a couple of layers that can be peeled off as your body temperature increases with activity. Try a sweat-wicking material next to your skin and then a layer of fleece and then a waterproof layer on top.”
Protect your hands, head, ears and feet: “It is the extremities that lose the most body temperature when exercising in the cold. Wear a hat that covers your ears, gloves to protect your hands and thermal socks to protect your feet from frostbite.”
Wear reflective gear: “You may be hard to spot when exercising in the early morning, at night or on a snowy or foggy day. Make sure you wear reflective gear.”
Pay attention to the weather: “Listen to the weather report before you go out. You don’t want to get halfway into your workout when the blizzard hits or the wind kicks the temperature down below freezing. It is best to exercise indoors if the weather gets too extreme.”
Join a fitness club: “Many clubs have indoor tracks, indoor pools, indoor tennis courts, indoor cycling classes or cardiovascular machines,” Aberg said. “At the very least, smaller clubs have strength equipment and cardiovascular machines. Your cardio workouts can usually be easily transferred to the indoors. It’s also a good time to cross-train or add a strength routine into your program.”
Walk the mall:“If you’re an exercise walker, many indoor malls open their doors early for people that want to walk the perimeter of the mall.”
Exercise at home: “There are many exercise DVDs on the market,” Aberg said. “Pop one into your DVD player and start moving. With minimal to no equipment, you can get a great workout at home.”