Winter Health Tips

Winter brings some of its own health challenges – from bitter weather to the threat of flu, and from fattening food to depression – but medical experts from LifeBridge Health share ways to remain healthy throughout the cold season and well into springtime.

Keep the Weight Off this Winter

Studies show that, on average, Americans gain one net pound per year because of winter eating of so-called comfort foods, like cookies, bread and anything laden with butter, cream and cheese. But there are ways to avoid this weighty dilemma by serving highly nutritious, tasty food, even when temperatures plunge below freezing.

Helpful tips include:

  • Eat enough fiber, especially in the form of fruits and vegetables.
  • Serve fruits and vegetables that are currently in-season; they will taste much better than out-of-season produce.
  • Substitute high-fiber sweet potatoes for high-carbohydrate potatoes.
  • Use low-fat dairy products in recipes.
  • Use applesauce in place of butter or oil in cakes.
  • Rely on seasonings and herbs rather than fat for making food tasty.

Avoiding the Cold and Flu

Cold and flu viruses are more likely to permeate the immune system when the weather turns bitter. Besides getting an annual flu shot (available to anyone over 6 months of age, but especially recommended for people aged 6 months to 18 years and from age 50 years and over), there are precautions that everyone can take to avoid catching a virus and/or spreading one to others. Handwashing, experts increasingly believe, is a valuable tool at anyone’s fingertips.

When using soap and warm water:

  • Rub your hands together hard for at least 15 seconds – sing a song such as “Happy Birthday” twice, which will be roughly that length.
  • Make sure you wash areas that frequently get missed: the backs of the hands, between the fingers, the thumbs and the fingernails.
  • Use a paper towel to turn off the water – if you use your bare hand, it will be re-contaminated.

If you are using waterless soap:

  • Make sure it contains at least 70% alcohol.
  • Rub the soap solution into every area of your hands until they are completely dry.

Winter Blues

Nearly everyone gets the winter blues at some time or another, but for some, this can become a serious medical disorder. It is estimated that over 6 percent of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and over 14 percent get the milder form called Subsyndromal Seasonal Affective Disorder (SSAD). Both disorders are more prevalent in the parts of the world closest to the poles, leading researchers to think that down feelings in the wintertime are related to the lack of daylight. Your doctor can help determine whether or not your depression is season-related, but how do you know when your depression is severe enough to warrant a trip to the doctor?

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness;
  • Lack of energy;
  • Feeling slowed down;
  • Trouble falling – or staying – asleep;
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight;
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions;
  • Thoughts of death or suicide;
  • Loss of interest in people and activities; and/or
  • Restlessness.

If you don’t have severe symptoms of depression but are simply feeling blue this season, there are things you can do to lift your spirits:

  • Make it a priority to get exercise. On the rare sunny winter days, go outside and take a brisk walk so you get the mood benefits of sunlight as well as exercise.
  • Take a daily vitamin.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water whenever you are thirsty.
  • When the sun is out, do your work by a window.
For more winter health tips, read Snow Shoveling Safety Tips ( http://ehstoday.com/news/snow_shoveling_safety_1215/) and Decorate Safely This Holiday Season. ( http://ehstoday.com/news/decorate_safely_holiday_1217/)
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