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Tips for Staying Healthy and Happy this Winter

December 19th, 2015

By William F.Mollenkopf, MD

Stay Active
     The holiday season is the time of year that many of us make the resolution to lead a more active lifestyle, but that is easier said than done when the temperature is dropping and the days are getting shorter.  Regular activity and exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living, and it is important to have a plan for how to stay active year-round. 

     The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week (for a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week), OR at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days a week (for a total of 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week). Think of moderate-intensity activities as walking or jogging at a brisk pace, riding a bicycle or pedaling a stationary bike, or stair-climbing.  Examples of vigorous exercise include swimming laps at a pool, running, or aerobics / crossfit programs. 

   Some ideas for ways you can stay active this winter include:

• Sign up for exercise classes at your local gym or YMCA.  You are never too old to find a new activity you may enjoy.  In fact, the American Geriatrics Society recommends Tai Chi for older adults because it is low-impact but trains strength and balance, and has been shown to reduce risk of falling.
• If you are feeling ambitious but don’t want to leave the comfort of home, consider purchasing a treadmill or stationary bike for your home or apartment.  The key is to keep these in a room you use every day such as the living room or bedroom, because if you tuck them away in an unused part of the house they are all too easily forgotten.  Then, make a plan for how you will use it (e.g., 30 minutes of use when you get home from work before dinner) and hold yourself to it.  Failing to plan is planning to fail.
• If you live or work in a building with stairs, try walking up and down the stairs for several minutes each day.  If you’re stuck in the mall while your significant other is shopping the after-Christmas sales, try walking a few laps around while resisting the urge to visit the pretzel stand.

Stay Warm
     Even in southern Virginia, there are always at least a few days where the temperature drops to freezing or below.  Dressing properly for the weather, especially when planning to go outdoors for more than a few minutes, is particularly important.  Children and the elderly are at highest risk for cold-related injuries such as hypothermia, frostnip and frostbite.

     Hypothermia refers to a cooling of core body temperature below 95°F.  Hypothermia is usually caused by heat loss through wet or inadequately insulated clothing in cold temperatures.  Children are at highest risk for developing hypothermia because of a high skin surface-to-body mass ratios, decreased ability to produce heat through shivering and burning internal energy stores, and decreased ability to recognize and escape the symptoms of hypothermia.  We lose much of our body heat through our heads, so remember to wear a hat or hood.

     Frostnip refers to a localized tingling, stinging or burning sensation that can occur when the skin is cooled to the point of freezing.  While frostnip will resolve with warming, colder temperatures (below 32°F) can lead to frostbite, or permanent tissue damage caused by freezing of the water in skin cells.  The most common places for frostbite to occur are in the hands, feet, ears and nose.  First degree frostbite presents as a white/pale area of skin surrounded by swelling. Worse cases of frostbite will involve blisters that develop within 24 hours.  If you suspect frostbite, see your doctor or visit the emergency room. Do not attempt to rapidly warm up frostbitten skin, as this can worsen tissue damage. 

Stay Healthy
     As we’re all well aware, presents aren’t the only things that get passed around during the holidays.  Whether you’re traveling by plane, train or by bus to your family get-together, visiting grandma and grandpa in the nursing home, sharing a cup of eggnog at the office holiday party, or kissing a special someone under the mistletoe, odds are you’ll come across someone with a cold or flu this winter.  While getting the flu shot every year is recommended for most people, it is especially important for young children and older adults who are at higher risk of influenza developing into a more serious infection such as pneumonia.  Also at higher risk are individuals who smoke, who are diabetic, and who have chronic lung conditions such as asthma and COPD. 

     Do your best not to overindulge in food and drink this holiday season.  Winter meals tend to be high in fat and carbs, so make an effort to get in at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.  This also tends to be the time of year when people indulge in more drinking, which is something to always be mindful of while on the road.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the holiday season always sees a spike in alcohol-related traffic injuries and fatalities, with the highest usually being on New Years’ Day.  Remember to always wear your seatbelt, and keep an eye on any friends who may have had a bit too much holiday cheer to drive home safely.  Feel free to enjoy the holiday spirit, but remember to do so in moderation and you will thank yourself next beach season.

William F. Mollenkopf, MD
Board Certified in Family Medicine
First Colonial Medical Associates
1168 First Colonial Road, Suite 101 and 201
Virginia Beach, VA 23454
(757) 352-2030