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5 ways winter affects your health


Winter—especially in areas like the Midwest—can seem like the longest season of all. Aside from the stress of hearing snowbunnies and sun lovers debate the merits and setbacks of the snow and icy season, there are a few winter health issues to be wary of as well.

1. The winter blues
Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? SAD is a type of depressive disorder that is brought on by winter’s shorter days—with early sunsets and late sunrises, the lack of natural sunlight causes some to experience increased sleepiness, increased appetite, a heavy sensation in the limbs, loss of interest, a sense of hopelessness and social withdrawal. The endorphins gained from exercise can be helpful with SAD symptoms, as can light therapy, which uses a special lamp to make up for missing natural sunlight. Make sure to speak with your provider if you experience these symptoms.

2. Winter dry eye
Between the cold, dry air and the dryness from indoor heating (especially space heaters), winter can often be a time of burning, itching eyes. These symptoms, along with a feeling of grittiness, indicate that your eyes are not producing enough tears to keep them comfortably moist. Dry eyes can be relieved with artificial tears, using a cool-mist humidifier and eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such fish and flax seed. In severe cases, a procedure that closes the ducts that drain tears from the surface of the eyes may be needed.

3. Dry skin
In addition to dry eyes, winter’s cold air and low humidity can also cause severely dry and cracked skin. A cool-mist humidifier is also helpful in this situation, as is taking shorter showers and skipping baths, which tend to exacerbate dry skin. A good moisturizer is key during cold months, and don’t skimp on places like elbows and feet, which are especially prone to dryness and painful, cracked skin. Use a moisturizer with SPF—even if the sun isn’t out long during winter months, its rays can still cause damage. Continue Reading »

Five exercises to help improve your balance for icy conditions

As we all know, Wisconsin weather can be called confusing at best. Temperatures can swing from 30 degrees one day, to 70 degrees the next day. Wisconsin winters can be particularly problematic due to the snow, ice and cold that lasts from December through March. One area of concern is slipping or falling on the ice. In general, people are more careful when they can see ice in the way, but what happens when we run into black ice or ice covered with snow? Is there anything we can do to prevent these falls, or limit the severity of injury when slipping? There is! I have several exercises and tips that can keep you healthier during the Wisconsin winter ahead. Continue Reading »

Stay active in cold weather

Stay active in cold weather

Exercise in winter? It can be done! All you need is a little childlike spirit. Become a kid again with these fun cardio activities that burn calories and work your muscles–all while having tons of family fun.

Ice skating: Strap on the skates for some healthy figure-8s. Ice skating burns approximately 500 calories per hour.

Snow shoeing: Take the family on a winter nature walk! Trekking through the snow burns 400 or more calories an hour.

Cross-country skiing: This excellent sport works muscles you didn’t even know you had, burning more than 400 calories in an hour.

Downhill skiing: Feel the exhilaration of brisk air in your lungs while you zoom downhill to the tune of 300 calories per hour.

Build a snowman or snow fort: Aw, come on, who doesn’t love a snowman? This fun family activity can be good for your mental and physical health. Rolling and trudging through snow in the yard burns 285 calories an hour.

Sledding: Climbing uphill is great exercise — burning nearly 400 calories an hour — all for the bonus reward of whizzing back down with happy kids shrieking in your ear.

All calculations are based on a 150-pound person.

Baby, it’s cold outside: infant safety in winter

Winter time is upon us and many new parents have questions about how to care for their baby during this season. Hopefully I can help answer a lot of the common questions:

  1. How do I dress my baby for winter?

If going outside, I suggest layering clothing instead of dressing in bulky clothes for warmth. Make sure to have footwear, mittens (socks can be used as mittens if needed) and a hat. Do not use a bulky snowsuit in a car seat. Snowsuits are fine for spending time outdoors, but are unsafe for use in car seats. The thickness of snowsuits does not allow the straps of a car seat to be tight enough. Your baby may slip loose or fall out of the car seat if there is an accident. Instead use a blanket to go over the baby or a car seat cover to block the cold wind.

If you’re planning on staying indoors, I suggest having your baby wear one more layer than you are currently wearing inside. When your baby sleeps, don’t have extra blankets, pillows or bedding in the crib. If you need to have a blanket, there are specialty baby swaddlers or sleep sacks that a baby can sleep in. Be careful not to over-bundle your baby. Eliminating loose bedding and avoiding overheating your baby will decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

  1. Can my baby get frostbite or hypothermia?

Yes, a baby can get frostbite with prolonged cold exposure. Make sure to give your baby a break from the cold. If you are uncomfortable or cold, they are uncomfortable and cold as well. Frostbite happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen, most commonly in fingers, toes, ears and nose. Keep an eye on your baby’s skin, it may look pale, gray, and blistered. Prevention is best, but if you suspect frostbite put frostbitten parts in warm (not hot) water. Do NOT rub frozen areas. Dr. Budiasih has a very informative blog on hypothermia. Hypothermia may occur when your baby’s body temperature falls below normal. It can occur more quickly in children than in adults. Your baby may become lethargic. Look for fatigue or unusual behavior.  Get medical attention as soon as possible for either hypothermia or frostbite. Continue Reading »

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