It’s hard to believe that winter is almost here. It seems like only a few days ago that fall burst onto the scene with bonfires, apple-picking and early Halloween decorations.
Proactively treating your body well and preparing for colder temperatures can help you stay in good health, especially when you’re not out and about as much as during warmer months. Maybe that means eating more Brussel sprouts, but it beats spending a few days in bed with the flu or a nasty cold.
Here are eight simple things to remember to help keep yourself healthy and well in winter:
1. Stay hydrated with water
You most likely have heard the advice for women to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day and men to consume 12 8-ounce glasses for optimum hydration. That’s the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which takes into account that approximately 20% of daily fluid intake comes in the form of food. Dehydration, even on a minor level, has been linked to difficulty concentrating, poor memory, diabetes and a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease, kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
2. Eat your vegetables
Filling up on root vegetables, fiber and vitamins C and D can help support your immune system. Colorful and healthful foods like carrots, beets, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, in-season fruits and protein are all part of a balanced diet. Snacks such as guacamole, hummus, cheese, a few squares of dark chocolate and spiced nuts can fill you up without causing a lack of energy. Try to avoid going hungry to holiday parties, and do not share food or drink containers.
3. Keep moving
Exercise is an important part of both physical and mental health. Although it might not be as easy for you to stay active during the winter months, there is a bevy of mobile apps and videos tailored to indoor workouts. Setting a schedule to ensure you exercise regularly is key. Even taking a walk around the block or going up and down the stairs a few times per day is better than being sedentary.
If you go outside to shovel, take it slow and pace yourself. Bend from the knees and lift the shovel with your legs bent. Also, make it easier on your back by pushing the snow as you shovel.
4. Don’t skimp on sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults ages 26 to 64 get 7-9 hours per night and adults 65 and over 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. Some guidelines suggest turning your devices off at least one hour before going to bed because the blue light from screens often decreases a person’s ability to sleep restfully. Watching television close to bedtime also can result in disrupted sleep patterns. Consider reading a non-digital magazine or listening to music before bedtime.
5. Wash your hands
Information on how to correctly wash your hands is everywhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, you probably already know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth and after you’ve been in a public place and touched an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people. The CDC’s checklist for washing your hands the right way is:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice).
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
6. Fight the flu with a vaccine
Ensuring you’re up to date on all your immunizations, especially the flu vaccine, is very important during winter. As the CDC notes, flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization and death, and they can keep you from getting sick.
During 2018-2019, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths. Getting a flu vaccine can also save valuable health care resources for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.
7. Dress for the weather
Bundle up in loose-fitting layers and be sure to protect your head, ears, hands and feet. If your clothing gets wet, change into dry clothes as soon as possible to avoid frostbite. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of frostbite is less than 5% when the air temperature is above 5 degrees Fahrenheit but rises as the wind chill falls; at wind chill levels below minus-18 degrees Fahrenheit, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.
Symptoms of frostbite include a prickling feeling; numbness; red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin; hard or waxy-looking skin; clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness; and blistering after rewarming. Warning signs of hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.
8. Stay socially engaged
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. It affects an estimated 10 million Americans and is four times more common in women than in men.
Remember to connect with friends and family during the winter, even if it’s only through a phone call. Consider reaching out to those you haven’t spoken with recently, especially if you’re feeling sad or depressed. If you need help, don’t be embarrassed to ask for it.
Additional tips for keeping yourself safe during the winter months include installing or changing the batteries on your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fully extinguishing all flames and only using a generator if properly vented. Don’t use a gas range to heat your house; if it’s too cold inside, go to the home of a family member or friend, or stay at a community shelter. Get your vehicle inspected so that you’re prepared to drive in winter weather.
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