6 Ways to Avoid Common Winter Health Risks
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on January 4, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in General Wellbeing
The coming of winter means there are all kinds of new opportunities for making memories with your loved ones, from sledding and ice skating to family gatherings and holiday festivities.
However, the winter months also means the coming of colder weather that can present threats to your mental health, immune system, skin, heart health, balance and body temperature.
Here are six ways to avoid these common winter health risks.
Combat seasonal depression
Winter’s shorter days and lack of sunlight can lead to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Those affected by SAD may experience a flare-up of depressive symptoms in the late fall or early winter. Doctor recommended treatment is often the use of a light that emits 10,000 lux, with the modest prescription of 30 minutes of light exposure per day.
For those who are unable to get a light that meets the specifications, consider reaching out to family and friends as a support network, finding active ways to get your body moving and being open to discussions about your feelings.
Protect your immune system
The colder weather means that people spend more time indoors and in closer contact with each other. This poses a risk to your immune system, as the increased contact facilitates the spread of germs that can lead to the flu, cough or the common cold.
The best way to protect your immune system against cold weather germs is to get your yearly flu shot, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or a travel hand sanitizer and to make sure to cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands. Additionally, make sure you’re getting all your vitamins and nutrients—especially vitamin C.
Adjust your skincare routine
Your skin’s natural moisture evaporates more quickly in the winter months due to the lower humidity level in the air. This makes your skin dry and tight and can cause flaking. Dry skin can lead to itchiness, redness, fine lines and deep cracks that cause bleeding. It can also lead to cold sores and breakouts.
In order to protect your skin from the changing weather, it’s recommended to use a moisturizer with an oil base in order to better prevent evaporation. Thicker, oil-based creams are better at protecting your skin versus a lotion because lotion’s effects may wear off faster. It’s also a good idea to always protect your face when out in the snow with either a scarf or other winter gear.
For cold sores, make sure to use a lip protectant that keeps your lips moisturized and consider looking into prescription medication such as valacyclovir that can speed up the healing process if outbreaks get really bad.
Dress warmly to encourage blood flow
Colder temperatures act as a vasoconstrictor, narrowing your blood vessels and increasing your blood pressure. For older people, this can create a serious risk for a heart attack. The best way to maintain your heart health is to make sure you dress warmly with an appropriate number of layers whenever going out.
Also, if you’ve had prior heart issues, it’s a good idea to avoid any strenuous outdoor activity such as shoveling, as it can further put stress on your heart.
Stay mindful of your balance
Winter can cause environmental risks, making it important for you to be mindful when navigating the outdoors. For example, icy sidewalks make falling easier, putting you at risk of injury. Make sure to watch where you step and avoid slippery surfaces whenever possible.
Wear shoes or boots with textured soles meant to increase grip and consider using handrails where available, even if you feel it isn’t necessary.
Watch for frostbite and hypothermia
You don’t have to be climbing Mount Everest to be at risk of frostbite or hypothermia. Young children, older adults, and the chronically ill are all easily susceptible to body temperature-related afflictions. Keep an eye on your loved ones and make sure to dress for the weather.
One common sign that your body may be experiencing hypothermia is stiffness in the neck, arms or legs. Frostbite occurs when water in the skin’s soft tissues, such as the fingers or toes, starts to freeze. In both cases, it’s essential to get into the warmth in order to raise your body temperature back up.
Enjoy yourself all winter long
Winter poses numerous risks for your health, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors all season. Be sure to take precautions and focus on staying healthy to enjoy all that winter has to offer.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan