Whether it’s below-freezing temperatures, rising respiratory illnesses or dangerous driving conditions, the winter season can provide unique health challenges. Here’s how you and your family can stay well throughout the season.
Exercise, but with Caution
It’s important to maintain healthy habits, such as a balanced diet and regular exercise, throughout the year. Working out – especially outside – wards off winter weight gain and gives you energy. There are many enjoyable outdoor activities to choose from, including ice skating, cross-country skiing and even walking. Just 10 minutes of outdoor aerobic exercise boosts the endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which improves mood and decreases the risk of seasonal affective disorder.
However, there are also a few things to bear in mind when it comes to outdoor winter workouts. One early symptom of hypothermia, or low body temperature, is shivering, which can progress to slurred speech, decreased coordination, and confusion. Frostbite is injury caused by freezing, resulting in the loss of feeling and color of the nose, ears, fingers, and toes. And dehydration is an issue far too many overlook during the winter. The key is to drink water before, during, and after exercise, because while you might not sweat as much in the winter, your body may still perspire under the increased weight of heavy or layered clothing.
Protect Your Heart
While it’s important to stay active, those with heart disease or other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, a history of smoking, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease are advised to avoid shoveling, explains Dr. Gabriela Grasa, cardiologist with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates. Cold weather makes the arteries constrict and increases the blood’s ability to clot. The cold, combined with activity that may increase blood pressure — like shoveling snow and following it with a cup of hot caffeinated coffee to warm up afterward — could trigger a cardiac event.
Upgrade Your Skincare Routine
Lighter moisturizers may not be enough to protect your skin from winter’s harsh conditions, so consider switching to creams, balms or oils, advises Dr. Anisha Kumar, Director of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at White Plains Hospital. Look for facial cleansers that say “gentle” and/or “moisturizing” on the bottle, and avoid those that contain alcohol, as this can dry out your skin. If you have very dry skin, minimize use of exfoliants containing glycolic acid or retinol, or use them only every other day. The sun’s UV rays can cause just as much damage to your skin in the winter as in the summer, especially if you are skiing, so it’s important to wear sunscreen every day.
Boost Your Immunity
Health officials are referring to the convergence of the flu, COVID-19 and RSV as a “tripledemic.” In addition to staying up to date with your vaccines, there are plenty of protective measures you can take to boost your immunity, says Dr. Michael Finkelstein, Internal Medicine physician at Scarsdale Medical Group. Wash your hands regularly, avoid smoking, get plenty of sleep, and eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Vitamin C, found in most fruits and vegetables, helps heal wounds and repair and maintain healthy bones, teeth, skin and cartilage. Zinc can help control infections by slowing down the immune response and preventing runaway inflammation. Garlic has antibiotic properties that are effective in fighting a range of bacteria, fungi and viruses. However, anyone with a persistent cough, pain or other abnormal symptom should see their physician as soon as possible.
Stay Safe on the Road – and at Home
Winter weather can create hazardous driving conditions, so use caution when driving on snowy, slushy or icy pavement. If you start to skid, take your foot off the gas, then steer in the direction of the skid, so when your wheels regain traction, you don’t have to overcorrect to stay in your lane. Keep an emergency kit in your car that includes a portable cell phone charger, blankets, jumper cables, a flashlight, batteries, a first-aid kit, non-perishable snacks, bottled water and a bag of salt, sand or cat litter for traction.
Heat your home safely by keeping your fireplace and/or furnace well-maintained. Make sure your chimney is in good condition and free of debris before using your fireplace. Have your gas furnace serviced regularly and install a carbon monoxide detector as a secondary safety measure.
The winter needn’t be an overly stressful time – as long as you keep health and safety top of mind. With the right attitude and proper precautions, you and your family can enjoy the best the season has to offer.