Head to Toe Health in Winter
Reports show that Americans are less likely to practice healthy habits throughout the cold season. Although it’s tempting to be inactive and overindulge in comfort foods, these behaviors increase the risk for weight gain, seasonal depression and chronic illness over time. As temperatures drop and snowfalls continue, consider ways to realistically manage physical and mental health without worry or stress.
- Bundle Up: Layering up in windy, cold conditions can prevent potentially serious health problems like heart attack and hypothermia. When shoveling or exercising outdoors, covering the neck and face helps avoid direct inhalation of cold air, which may constrict the arteries and decrease the heart’s oxygen supply. Most importantly, look for a water-resistant, insolated coat and ensure gloves, scarves, and hats are staples in the family’s winter wardrobe.
- Eat Right: Maintaining a healthy diet during the holiday season can be challenging; however, there are ways to satisfy a sweet tooth and feel full without overindulging. Watch portions and incorporate good nutrition into every meal, whether it’s vegetables, fruits, whole grains or lean proteins. Staying hydrated is also crucial for good health, and adults should aim for at least half their body weight in ounces daily.
- Explore Hobbies: Combating the risk of seasonal depression and the temptation to be inactive can start with trying new activities. Read a book, start a journal, or take on a new craft. It’s also important to socialize throughout the winter season, whether it’s with friends or family, to keep the mind busy and avoid isolation.
- Get Moving: Research shows those who stop exercising during winter months may experience a 20 percent decrease in heart and lung function. Throughout the cold season, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, even if it means cleaning the house or shoveling snow. Those struggling with motivation should consider finding a workout partner, establishing a weekly regimen or exploring new activities, such as indoor classes or winter sports.
- Get Vaccinated: The flu kills an average of 20,000 people every year–even those considered healthy. Throughout the winter, keep in mind the importance of vaccinations, and where/when flu shots are available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers an easy-to-navigate flu vaccine finder, but Blue Cross members can also visit bcbsm.com/findcare for more information on available care providers.
- Moisturize: The skin is our largest organ, so it’s important to take care of it all year long. Throughout winter, fight dryness by regularly using lotion or oils to trap moisture and keep the skin soft and hydrated. Regularly drinking water can also help hydrate from the inside out.
- Relax: Taking time to relax can restore emotional well-being, boost critical thinking and reduce the production of stress hormones. Take time to focus inward and rest the mind and body. Yoga is one activity that offers mental and physical health benefits and diminishes symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.
- Shovel Safely: Michigan is predicted to experience above-average snow falls this winter. For someone who is usually inactive, shoveling heavy, wet snow for 10 minutes is the equivalent of running on a treadmill to the point of exhaustion. Before heading outdoors to clear driveways and walkways, remember to layer up, take breaks, stay hydrated and immediately stop if there’s any pain or discomfort in the chest, stomach, arms or jaw.
About the author: Dr. Lynem-Walker is a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
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- Maintain a Healthy, Productive Office as Winter Approaches
Photo credit: mapodile