Winter Health Tips

26 Dec 2008

WINTER: The bitter weather. The short days. The fattening food. Winter brings some of its own health challenges, but you can stay healthy as we head into the springtime.

New Year's Resolution One: Keep the Weight Off this Winter

The winter just wouldn't be the same without cookies, bread and anything laden with butter, cream and cheese. Studies show that, on average, Americans gain one net pound per year because of winter eating of so-called comfort foods.

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.
Registered dietitians from Northwest Hospital, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital and LifeBridge Health & Fitness are available for media interviews.

Who Knew Something So Simple Could Do So Much: Avoiding the Cold and Flu Through Handwashing

Experts increasingly believe handwashing to be the most important element of germ control and disease prevention. 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 six 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.

Do you know that there is a correct way to wash one's hands?

If you are 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.

Medical experts at LifeBridge Health are available to talk about handwashing as a preventative measure for cold, flu and other illnesses.

Winter Blues: How to Handle Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Nearly everyone gets the winter blues at some time or another, but for some, they are actually 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
  • -- 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, such as:

  • -- 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 well-hydrated by drinking water whenever you are thirsty.
  • -- When the sun is out, do your work by a window.

Psychiatrists from Sinai and Northwest Hospitals are available to talk about dealing with the winter blues and when see a doctor about depression.

The Great White Death Commeth: How to Safely Shovel Snow

Most portions of the U.S. are expected to experience a snowier-than-usual winter, according to the 2009 Farmer's Almanac. Unfortunately, this means we will all be shoveling our driveways and sidewalks more often. Shoveling snow is a moderate-intensity exercise that could result in injury if done incorrectly.

Follow these tips to stay snow-safe this winter season. It will take some preparation, but your legs, back and heart will thank you:

  • -- Before shoveling, warm up your muscles in your legs, arms, shoulders and back by stretching.

  • -- If you must stand on ice, put down salt or sand to give your feet some traction. To maintain the best balance, stand with feet apart at hip-width.

  • -- Use an ergonomic shovel with a bend in the handle it will save your back by permitting you to bend less. When you do need to bend, bend at your knees.

  • -- Spray the dish of the shovel with olive oil before you start. The oil will help the snow easily slide on and off.

  • -- To give yourself the best leverage, space your hands apart on the shovel handle.

  • -- Don't put too much snow on the shovel at once. Shovel only truly manageable amounts of 1 to 2 inches at a time.

  • -- Protect your back by tightening your stomach muscles while you lift.

  • -- That said, if you can, push the snow instead of lifting it.

  • -- Walk to drop the snow rather than throwing it, but if you must throw it, do not bend at the waist, but instead rotate your entire body to face the direction of the throw.

  • -- Slow down. Most injuries occur when people try to shovel too quickly.

  • -- Take a break every 5 to 10 minutes to regain your breath. Shoveling snow is like weightlifting, and if you don't take breaks, you put could yourself at risk for heart attack.

  • -- If you are overweight, elderly, or have a history of heart or back problems, you should forego shoveling snow altogether and use a snow blower or else have someone else shovel your snow.