six common winter health problems

Six common winter health problems

Colder months can lead to some seasonal health issues
January 10, 2019

Time to break out the scarves and mittens! Winter is known for its cold air and the subsequent copious amounts of warm beverages to keep warm. Although you may think that the only thing you have to watch out for is bitter eggnog or tacky sweaters, there are actually some common health risks that come and go with the seasons.

Alison Pittman, PhD, RN, CPN, CNE, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing fills us in on the top six winter health-related issues.

Asthma attacks

Asthma is one of the most common respiratory illnesses in the United States, and one common trigger becomes more prevalent in winter: freezing temperatures.

If you have asthma and intend on spending time outdoors in the elements, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or face warmer to keep from breathing in the cold, dry air. Consider exercising indoors, such as at a gym.

A group of people sitting at different tables in a coffee shop

Catching a virus

While the cold weather doesn’t have a direct effect on your chances of contracting a virus, it does force people indoors with centralized heating. The close proximity of many human beings can allow viruses to spread with ease.

According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH), dry winter air allows the flu virus to survive and transmit itself more easily. Also, research suggests that flu virus’ coating becomes tougher at temperatures close to freezing, making them easier to transmit in the winter.

Washing your hands is one of the simplest and most important ways to avoid getting a cold or the flu. Germs are on all surfaces, from door knobs to elevator buttons, and you may be exposing your body to those microbes if you rub your eyes or put your fingers in your nose or mouth without proper hand washing. Also, she recommends to get the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the flu vaccine for persons six months of age and older.

Silhouette of a person walking on the top of a mountain

Weight gain

Exercising daily may already be a struggle, and adding another obstacle in the form of cold and unruly weather can really extinguish your motivation. The numbers on the scale can tend to creep up during reduced exercise isn’t helped by the rich holiday foods and gatherings that involve large meals.

To best combat weight gain, make a conscious effort to get at least 30 minutes of exercise—such as an indoor exercise class to outsmart the elements—at least several times per week. Also, be sure to not binge on the holiday sweets that may be around; leave the cookies for Santa.

Close-up picture of a woman's jaw and cheek that shows dry skin

Dry skin

Cold weather and low humidity during the winter can dehydrate your skin and leave it looking dull. Remember to drink at least 64 ounces of water every day to keep your skin supple and to flush out toxins.

Also treat your skin gently. Avoid strong soap, shave carefully, use warm water instead of hot water and pat your skin dry rather than rub it dry. Hot water and strong soaps can remove oil that your skin needs to stay healthy.

A man hugging his knees while sitting on the floor

Seasonal depression

The winter blues can have a real effect on people and can cause some seasonal depression. In fact, the “winter blues” are described as a milder version of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

To some extent, these mood changes can be attributed to the decreased sunlight and daylight hours. However, for some people, depression can be triggered because of the loss of a loved one during the holidays or the lack of social engagement that can occur because of bad weather.

In order to beat the winter blues, make an effort to get natural sunlight during the day and limit your days spent entirely indoors. Also, be sure that you’re getting proper amount of sleep—about eight hours for most adults.

The back of a man shoveling snow out of his driveway

Heart attacks

Caution—if you plan on spending cold mornings shoveling snow and you have heart disease, then you may need to take extra precautions. Research shows that in winter months, heart attacks are more common, and more severe. Strenuous activities could put too much pressure on the heart, especially if it’s already working harder than usual to pump blood throughout the body to keep you warm.

Be sure to dress warmly if you plan on being outdoors for extended periods of time, and take an extra minute to cover your head and ears from the elements. Learn the warning signs of a heart attack, and do not hesitate to talk to your health care provider about any concerns about heart disease and how the cold weather can affect you.

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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