Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS Family & Community Health Sciences Educator Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Staying active and healthy is not always easy, especially with winter ice and snow. While sledding and ice skating can look great from the warmth of your apartment or home, the cold months can also affect our physical and mental well-being. With positive health practices, however, you can "weather" these months in good health.
Follow these tips for a healthier winter and spring:
- Exercise at least 30 minutes most days, which gives a boost to your immune system and helps to keep the flu and other illness in check. Wash your hands frequently to keep germs in check.
- Try ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing instead of your daily walking or running. All are good calorie burners.
- Make sure to dress in layers to prevent frostbite and hypothermia, which is a dangerous drop in body temperature. Put on multiple layers that help trap body heat and protect you from the moisture of snow and cold. Make the first layer of clothing an athletic fabric rather than cotton. Cotton, unfortunately, draws needed moisture away from the skin.
- Watch for hypothermia symptoms which include: mental confusion, poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, cold feet, and cold hands.
- Call 911 if a person's temperature falls below 95 degrees which is considered a medical emergency. Get the person to a warm shelter, remove wet clothing and wrap them in a dry blanket or towel to warm their body core. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), hypothermia usually happens at very low temperatures, however, it can happen if you get chilled from snow, rain, or sweat.
- Sign up for a YMCA or gym membership or try a weight resistance routine at home if cold weather is not your "cup of tea."
- Try using a humidifier to put needed moisture back into the air. Taking care of your skin in winter months means making sure there is moisture in the air.
- Take warm, rather than hot, showers so that your blood vessels do not dilate and release needed moisture into the top layers of your skin.
- Take a short shower and use a moisturizer immediately after your shower to keep water inside the top layers of your skin.
- Make sure you keep your skin protected from the sun during winter months. UVA rays come through clouds or your windows and penetrate your skin when you get a sun burn. So, don't forget the sunscreen even during winter and spring months.
- Beginning in late fall and early winter, ending in spring and summer, some individuals are affected by darkness, rain and snow. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder comes with a swing in mental well-being coming and going with the seasons. Women are four times more likely than men, to experience this disorder.
- Be aware of SAD. Seek professional help if you experience the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which include: low energy, excessive sleepiness, overeating, weight gain, and social withdrawal. Help may be needed to suggest light therapy, medication, or psychotherapy. Light therapy provides daily exposure to artificial light and often is very helpful to those with SAD.
Take small steps to keep your physical and mental health in good shape during winter and spring months. Make sure to plan ahead so you can navigate this winter weather in good health.