As winter approaches, shorter days can shortchange your health. Cold weather can hamper our activity and less sunlight can bring us down. However, minor adjustments to our routines and attitudes will yield dividends to our health.
When we spend more time indoors, we tend to move less and eat more. An easy way to reverse this trend is to take a brisk walk prior to any between-meal snack. Better yet, remove unhealthy munchies from reach. Those summer activities such as swimming and yardwork must be replaced with scheduled exercise.
We often only think about drinking extra water when we sweat or when we are thirsty. In reality, heating the indoors dries the air we breathe and hastens dehydration. In addition, when the lining of our airway becomes dry, we weaken the barrier against viruses that cause the common cold and the flu. Start your day with a big glass of water to make up for the dehydration that happens when we sleep.
More time inside means more time close to others. When it comes to preventing the spread of winter ailments, the answer is clear—frequent handwashing and annual flu shots. Last year, more than 80,000 people died from the flu. Don’t fall for excuses such as, “it causes the flu” or “it’s only 30% effective this year.” Of course, washing your hands between every activity makes sense. Interestingly, most of these respiratory viruses can spread by direct contact with infected surfaces, in addition to breathing in the small droplets. Bonus tip: always wash your hands before touching your face.
When the sun goes down, so can our mood. Men, in particular, tend to mask the symptoms of depression.
Here are some suggestions for sidestepping gloominess:
• Make a point of taking short breaks to go outside several times each day
• Plan extra social activities with family, friends, and other loved ones
• Take a vacation
• Incorporate daily stress reduction techniques such as time management, meditation,
• Bolster your sleep routine with light exposure shortly after awakening
As the year comes to an end, you may have forgotten about your annual well- visit with your primary care physician. It’s OK to schedule that appointment in advance for January (after the year-end rush).
In the meantime, here are a few more easy winter health tips:
• Use sunscreen (exposure is often underestimated in the winter)
• Check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (you should have both)
• Ensure proper ventilation with replaces, vehicles, and other sources of combustion
• Enjoy libations only in moderation and only travel with someone sober behind the wheel
For those who do not like cold weather, “winter” is a word that can become a sentence. Hopefully these tips will help you break free. Look for my article on “Men’s Health Habits: Make Them, Don’t Break Them” in the next issue.
Scott D. Miller, MD, is the Medical Director of Robotic Surgery at WellStar North Fulton Hospital. He is a urologist with WellStar Urology in Roswell and has practiced in Atlanta for over 20 years. WellStar North Fulton Hospital offers the Know Your Heart Screening that can determine your risk of heart disease, stroke and other serious conditions. Call 770-956-STAR (7827) to learn more or schedule an appointment.