Healthy Lifestyle

Winter Health Checklist: 9 Ways to Thrive During These Long, Cold Days

We’re all feeling it right now. The nights are long, and the temperatures are low. 

During these cold winter months, many of us just don’t do a good job of taking care of ourselves. We tend to be less active and spend more time cooped up indoors – and the problem often gets worse as we age.

So what can you do to make sure you and your loved ones are healthy and safe this time of year?

Get a flu shot. If you haven’t gotten your flu shot, there’s still time. The flu season lasts through early spring. Because the vaccine takes two weeks to become effective, the sooner you get one the better. Anyone can get the flu, but people over 65, those with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and children under 5 are at higher risk of developing serious complications.

Eat a balanced diet. It’s easy to throw the diet out the window and seek out comfort foods, but eating a healthy, balanced diet is always important. Choose a variety of foods and beverages from each food group: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. A dietitian may be able to help, especially if you’re managing health conditions.

Check your medications. There are two things you should know about medications through the winter months. First, be sure to have your refill ready before severe weather strikes. You don’t want to get stuck without necessary prescriptions during blizzard conditions. Second, have your pharmacist or primary care provider review your medications for any contradictions or side effects. For example, someone taking more than four medications may be at an increased risk for falls. 

Add exercise to your day. Exercise is the single most important thing you can do to keep your body and brain strong. Adding movement helps to improve circulation, maintain muscle mass and reinforce bone strength. Exercise may also be prescribed as therapy for some chronic illnesses such as arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and dementia. Simply making time to go for a regular walk can make a big difference. Or try aquatic exercise if you’re looking to mix things up.

Shovel safely. Shoveling and blowing snow is hard work, especially if the snow is wet and heavy. And if you don’t tackle these tasks correctly, you could injure your back, pull muscles, get frostbite and even suffer a heart attack. Do a light warmup with range-of-motion exercises or stretching before getting to work. Be sure to take breaks every 10 minutes or so, as exhaustion increases your risk for injury. If you’re just not up to it, don’t be a hero. Ask for help.

Adjust indoor lighting. Bad lighting is never a good idea, and it especially doesn’t mix with aging eyes. Install extra lighting where needed to help ease eye strain and illuminate any trip hazards in your home.

Reduce the risk of falls. Speaking of trip hazards, get rid of them! Say no to clutter and area rugs. You can also reduce your fall risk by adding grab bars in the bathroom, installing nonslip stickers on your shower and tub surfaces, and using nonskid floor mats. Remember to treat slick spots on your driveway and around your home.

Protect yourself from carbon monoxide. Hundreds of people die each year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, with many cases attributed to improperly functioning furnaces and gas space heaters. Protect yourself by installing carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, and replace those batteries regularly.

Stay social. Shutting yourself away for the winter like a bear in hibernation isn’t good for your body or brain. Find the time to speak to friends – face-to-face whenever possible – and socialize as much as you can. Social interaction has benefits for your memory and thinking. It can motivate you to stay active.  And it might put you in a better mood.

You can do this. For more ideas on getting through the winter with your health and spirits intact, speak with your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider.

About the Author

Dr. Virginia Ripley is a family medicine physician at Methodist Physicians Clinic. She sees patients of all ages for preventative health care, as well as for treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.

“I like patients to be actively involved in their own health and the decisions that are made about their care,” she said. “I really want them to feel like we are working as partners in trying to help them maintain good health.”

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