Staying Healthy and Active This Winter

Family Sledding

Tips to Stay Healthy & Active This Winter

Winter is on its way, bringing with it the urge to hunker down and settle inside as outdoor temperatures plummet and snow starts to fall. While winter is a time when we embrace coziness and warmth, it’s also a time to be vigilant about our health, as most illnesses occur during the winter months. What’s more, with the onslaught of COVID and emerging variants, now more than ever it’s important to monitor winter illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia, colds, flu and be vigilant concerning COVID.

Colder months also tempt us to give in and yield to the appealing comforts of staying indoors, meaning less physical activity and added temptation of unhealthy foods, two causes for gaining additional pounds.

Your Capital Women’s Care team offers you valuable tips to stay healthy and active this coming winter season, including explanations of winter illnesses, their symptoms and treatments plus how to avoid them. Additionally, you’ll find information on how to maintain a healthy weight through regular activities and healthy nutrition to help you not only avoid winter illnesses but also stave off serious illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and others so you can lead a long, healthy and fulfilling life.

Winter Illnesses

There are several illnesses to watch out for during the winter months, including:

  • common head cold – symptoms appear above the shoulders and affect eyes, nose, ears and throat. Symptoms include sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, cough, congestion, sore throat and clogged ears. Nausea and fevers usually don’t present with colds. Colds usually appear gradually, with symptoms worsening within a few days. Treatment includes rest, drinking plenty of fluids and using over-the-counter medicines to take care of your worst symptoms.
  • flu – symptoms are like the common cold, but present further within your respiratory system, causing a deep cough. Other symptoms include fever accompanied by aches, chills, deep fatigue, with possible diarrhea and/or vomiting. Flu presents symptoms quickly, lasting about 5 to 7 days or less and are less severe if you’ve had the flu vaccine. Treatment includes seeing your doctor who may recommend antivirals during the first few days to lessen symptom severity, along with rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
  • COVID – symptoms are like those of cold and flu, with loss of taste or smell distinguishable symptoms. COVID may lead to mental confusion, anxiety, depression, brain fog and difficulty sleeping. Nasal swabs at COVID-specific testing sites are used for diagnosis. Treatment may include hospitalization in severe cases. For mild cases, treatment includes rest, staying hydrated through increased fluid intake, isolation to avoid spread and over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms.
  • bronchitis – is inflammation of the bronchial tube linings, which carry air to and from your lungs. Symptoms include coughing up thickened mucus, which can be discolored. Other symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, low grade fever, chills and chest discomfort. Bronchitis may present as either acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis, known as a chest cold, is common. Chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition with constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking. Repeated bouts of bronchitis may indicate chronic bronchitis, which requires medical attention and is one condition that could indicate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • pneumonia – is an infection of one or both air sacs of the lungs. Its symptoms include severe cough with phlegm, fever, chills and difficulty breathing and requires a doctor visit for diagnosis and treatment. Pneumonia can be life-threatening if not treated, especially in young children and senior adults and those who are immune-compromised or have underlying health conditions.  Symptoms can range in severity. Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, cough medicines or fever reducers/pain relievers. Fatigue is a lingering symptom which may take 1 month or more to disappear. Rest, fluids and medication are treatments for pneumonia.

Tips to Avoid Winter Illnesses

There are several things you can do to protect your health during winter:

  • Wash hands often. Winter is peak season for contagious illnesses like cold and flu. The most effective way to remove and prevent the spread of illness-causing germs is to wash hands frequently. Remember to get a good antibacterial soap lather on hands and scrub them with warm water. You should lather them for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” Remember to lather areas between fingers, too. You can also carry hand sanitizer, wear a mask and practice social distancing when out in public to avoid potential illness exposure.
  • Get a flu shot. The flu virus can put a damper on not only you and your family’s health, but also your winter holiday plans and activities. Flu symptoms include coughing, congestion, fever, and fatigue that may last up to 2 weeks. Protect yourself and your family from getting sick by getting the flu vaccine. Recent studies show flu vaccination reduces flu risk between 40-60%. Consider getting pneumococcal vaccine as well for added health protection.
  • Eat to boost immunity. As part of your efforts to stay well and avoid winter illness, it’s important to eat healthy foods that support your immune system. Mushrooms, garlic, citrus fruits, herbs and spices, probiotics, prebiotics and chicken soup add vital illness protection.
  • Enjoy some sunshine. It’s important to spend some time outdoors, even in cold temperatures. Sunlight is proven to improve mood by boosting serotonin release. Sunlight exposure is especially important for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), plus it helps regulate circadian rhythms of your body and affects sleep habits.
  • Maintain good skin health. Cold winter temperatures can wreak havoc on your skin, causing dryness, flaking, cracking, and in some cases, eczema. To keep skin moist and healthy, drink plenty of water, use an ointment moisturizer and sunscreen with an SPF factor of 30 or above whenever you’re outside during winter days, as the sun’s rays still have damaging effects on your skin even in cold winter months, especially sunlight reflecting off snow.

You can also boost your health and protect your body from illness through implementing a nutritious diet and regular daily physical activity.

Eat Right

When cold weather strikes, calorie-laden comfort food may threaten to take over your family’s meals. You and your family can avoid additional pounds by being mindful of your eating habits daily:

  • Strive to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into nutrient-dense soups, whole grains within cereals and breads and highlight lean-protein options like chicken and fish over fat-laden red meats.
  • Avoid high-calorie fast foods. Cook your meals at home to control portion sizes as well as eliminate extra salt, sugar and fat that can lead to health issues like heart disease and diabetes. Enjoy restaurant meals as an occasional treat and box half of your serving to enjoy during another meal on the weekend.
  • Initiate family mealtime. Gather to share news of the day while prepping, making and eating dinner together. Doing so enhances your relationships and teaches kids valuable cooking and nutrition skills.
  • Pack a healthy lunch and snacks daily to ensure good eating habits continue for adults and kids alike. Take kids grocery shopping so they can choose some healthy options for school lunches and afterschool snacks and include them in weekday dinner choices. Create space in the refrigerator that’s easily accessible for small hands containing healthy, precut fruit, veggies and single servings of yogurt or hummus.
  • Keep bowls of whole fruit available within easy reach for older kids and adults.
  • Take time for breakfast. Set family alarm clocks that allow enough time for everyone to eat a nutritious bowl of whole-grain cereal or oatmeal, yogurt parfait or fresh fruit.
  • Encourage healthy bedtime snacks that are nutritious and easy to digest, like non-sugary cereals and low-fat milk.
  • Maintain portion control and avoid second helpings to ensure eating a well-balanced, nutritious meal and avoid extra calories.
  • Discourage midnight snacks or those occurring after bedtime to avoid extra calories and bad eating habits.
  • Keep your grill out year-round to enjoy marinated lean proteins like salmon or chicken, veggie kabobs and grilled seasonal veggies to add variety to nutritional family meal options.
  • Avoid buying packaged or processed foods laden with salt, sugar and preservatives and have less nutritional value than immunity-boosting whole foods.
  • Don’t give in to buying junk food or sweets while grocery shopping. You can’t eat it if it’s not in your fridge or pantry, so you eliminate the temptation altogether before it occurs.

Get Moving

The winter months can be a challenging time to stick to routine exercise. Parties and gatherings can leave you feeling drained and sluggish. What’s more, cold weather can also deter you from heading outside for some exercise.

Make your activities fun so doing them doesn’t feel like exercise. To stay active during winter, you can:

  • hit the gym
  • try a new fitness class or option
  • go for an indoor swim
  • workout at home with DVDs or exercise equipment
  • hike, cross-country ski or snowshoe through local parks
  • build a snow fort or snowman with your kids
  • have an old-fashioned snowball fight
  • take a family walk through your neighborhood
  • play a football game with family and friends
  • go sledding, tubing or snowboarding with your kids or grandkids
  • play with your kids outside
  • go ice skating
  • play ice hockey
  • take a walk through your local mall
  • play indoor sports like volleyball, basketball or pickleball
  • opt for stairs instead of elevators and park far away from destinations to rack up steps
  • have a dance party

Maintain Motivation

Motivation is key to living a healthy lifestyle. Remind yourself of why it’s so important to eat healthy and stay active throughout the year, even when it feels difficult to do so.

Exercise and sound nutrition benefit both your mind and body. Think of winter as a time to get more creative with your exercise routine and meals. Staying on track throughout the winter months by maintaining a healthy lifestyle including nutritious diet and physical exercise will lead you to feeling even better than you usually do when warm weather returns, as well as offer your body protection from threat of winter illness.

Your Capital Women’s Care team is here for you and your family if you have questions or concerns about winter illnesses or any women’s health issue. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff of doctors, nurses and other seasoned medical professionals offer comprehensive, state-of-the-art services and healthcare so you and your family enjoy and maintain a long, quality life.

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