The coldest season of the year evokes images of crackling fireplaces and holiday cheer. But the winter also brings colder temperatures, icy sidewalks, an uptick in viral illnesses, and overindulgence in calorie-rich foods and alcohol. So how can you stay healthy and safe from both cold-weather injuries and holiday regrets? Laurel Edmundson, MD, an urgent care and family medicine physician at CityMD, suggests the following winter health and safety tips.
Prevent slips and falls
Pay attention to hazardous areas that can become slippery after rain, snow, or hail. These can include steam vents or sewer grates, uneven curbs, potholes, and patches of black ice on the roads. Whenever possible, stick to designated footpaths and sidewalks that are cleared and well-maintained.
Always wear appropriate winter footwear even if you're only venturing a few steps away and give yourself ample time to avoid a slip or fall from rushing. If you’re unsure about a certain surface, tap your foot to test it out.
Beat the winter blues
Shorter days and colder temperatures can lead to a depressed mood, insomnia, lethargy, and a general feeling of sadness. You can try to beat back the winter blues by getting outside in natural daylight, taking daily walks, getting plenty of sleep, and following a healthy diet. Choose activities that release feel-good hormones called endorphins and boost feelings of well-being and pleasure. Snacking on fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich foods — which are valuable sources of nutrients — can make you feel better physically and mentally.
Those who suffer from a more severe version of the winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder, may need to consult with their doctor for medical advice. One solution is to explore light therapy, which uses artificial light to help boost your mood, explains Dr. Edmundson.
Curb your holiday cravings
Overindulging in rich foods, sweets, and alcohol can quickly get out of control, particularly with all the gatherings around the holidays. Cookies, cakes, and alcohol can not only lead to weight gain but can also contribute to developing a chronic disease over time. You could also volunteer to be a designated driver at holiday parties to help curb alcohol consumption.
"It's OK to want to sample the delicious treats that go with the holidays — that's part of the joy of the season! Just be mindful not to overdo it," says Dr. Edmundson. "Staying physically active can also help you curb your cravings and burn extra calories."
Shovel snow safely
If you live in an area where snowfall is common, and shoveling is required, be careful. Pace yourself, lift with your legs to help protect your back, take breaks, and stretch. Remember to wear boots with non-slip rubber soles for traction. If you do have any cardiovascular or lung disease, be extra cautious or find a helper to do it for you.
"If you get winded or feel unwell in any way, stop. Don't overdo it,” says Dr. Edmundson. “Better yet, find a nearby adolescent to do it for you.”
Stay on top of immunizations
Make sure your vaccines are up to date for the winter. This includes an annual flu shot for everyone 6 months of age and older, and appropriate pneumonia vaccination for individuals over 65 with certain chronic conditions. If you are not immunized against COVID-19, get vaccinated. Stay on top of COVID booster shot recommendations.
Let Us Be Your Partner in Well-Being
At Summit Health, we care about our patients’ overall health. There are many reasons you may come in to visit with us, but we want to be sure you get the most out of every appointment. At your next visit, be sure to talk to your provider about appropriate screenings and necessary evaluations. And, if you are over the age of 65, you may want to discuss fall risk, bladder health, physical activity expectation, and mental health. Additionally, if you are having trouble affording your medications let your provider know. It’s important to have these conversations to stay on top of your health and minimize your risk of developing certain diseases.