Published: January 20, 2009
Ready for winter? The official beginning of the winter season is a week away. You’ve winterized the car, right? You’ve prepared your home for cold weather? Check. Have you taken steps to prepare your body for winter weather?
Have you noticed that some people seem to be sick more than others? Why do some people succumb to illness and others do not? Germs don’t make people sick. Cold weather doesn’t make people sick. If those were the actual factors, all of the doctors, nurses and other health care workers would be ill constantly. If germs or cold weather alone made people ill, everyone at the ball game would have the flu the following week instead of a handful.
Cold weather increases the chance of becoming ill for a number of reasons. A combination of factors is responsible for increased illness during the winter. By intentionally adapting your behavior to adjust for the season, you can dramatically improve your chances of staying healthy, even if you usually get sick!
Here are some suggestions collected from a variety of health experts to help you stay healthy and productive during the coming winter months.
1. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. The more frequently you wash your hands (with soap), the healthier you will be. Soap and water beat those popular alcohol gels. Use the gels only if a sink is not available. Don’t dry your hands with the same towel everyone else just used… that negates the value of washing.
2. Keep your hands away from your face. You just washed your hands and then you picked up an office phone, worked at a keyboard or pushed a grocery cart others have used or greeted a friend with a handshake. Chances are they just wiped their nose, or worse, before touching you. Unclean! Unclean! Most people touch their nose or face thousands of times during the day. Try to avoid it and you improve your odds immensely.
3. Drink water frequently during the day. Dehydration is so common during the winter months that it can be counted as one of the top reasons for pain and illness.
4. Eat healthy, nutritious foods. This is not the best time to start a starvation diet. Have you ever noticed that many people that rapidly lose 15 or 20 pounds during January and February become ill in March or April? Restricting nutrients and calories impairs your immune system. Eat sensibly and lose weight gradually.
5. Stay active and stay healthy. Moderate exercise is always a good idea, even in cold weather. Resist that urge to hibernate.
6. Don’t expose yourself to harsh weather conditions for long periods of time without proper layers of warm clothes. Since it is winter, chances are it will be cold for a while. Add a layer or two to adjust.
7. Gradually adapt to colder temperatures. Although prolonged exposure to being chilled should be avoided, some adjustment to colder temps is actually a good idea. Avoid over heating homes.
8. Add moisture to indoor air. This is easy to do. With room-size humidifiers you can maintain normal moisture levels in bedrooms or other places where you spend a great deal of time. Keeping the air moist really improves your odds of staying well.
9. Use plain salt water for nasal and sinus irrigation. This works wonders.
10. Vitamins do work. If you don’t happen to be one of the 2 percent of Americans that always eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet, supplement with a good multi-vitamin.
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11. Stay positive. Many people experience seasonal depression or mood swings that can dramatically affect health. Anticipate this by taking steps now to plan activities to boost enthusiasm. Join others in group activities. Avoid the cable news channels and shows focusing on negativity.
Some of these ideas may seem like a waste of time or appear too trivial to matter. Each one is important. If you want to stay healthier this winter, I encourage you to try to follow through with all of the suggestions above.
Next week a story about a very special one-year-old!
Dr. Mark Kestner
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