6 Tips for Staying Safe and Healthy in the Winter

Winter brings shorter days, colder temperatures, and the joys and chaos of the holidays. Some people look forward to this time of year, while others hibernate the days away until spring.

Although there is plenty to love about the chilly months — hot cocoa, snuggling up next to a fire and wearing your favorite sweaters — winter presents unique challenges for everyone. Here are six tips for staying healthy and safe this season.

1. Exercise Regularly

Cozying up indoors is a favorite pastime during the winter. Why go outside where it’s cold, wet and overcast when you can wrap yourself up in a blanket with a good book on the sofa?

It’s important to find ways to stay active, whether inside or out. There are plenty of outdoor activities, like skiing or ice skating, if you enjoy sports. Bundling up for a brisk walk is also an option for the less adventurous.

Exercise helps boost your immunity and prevent colds and illnesses by flushing bacteria out of your lungs. It also helps lower cardiovascular disease and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which could otherwise lead to increased glucose levels, lower immunity and altered moods.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises per week.

2. Eat Healthily

Between holiday parties and the desire to reach for heavy comfort foods that warm us, it’s easy to get off track with your diet during the winter.

It’s not well-known why we tend to consume more calories when it’s cold outside. Scientists have suspected it comes from an evolutionary mindset to prepare ourselves for survival in harsh weather conditions, similar to various animal species.

Another factor for eating unhealthily in the wintertime may be seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects up to 3% of the general population and occurs when the seasons change. Feelings of depression can also increase our calorie intake of carbs and sugars.

Suggestions for eating a healthy diet during the winter include:

  • Limiting how much alcohol you consume
  • Eating before heading out the door to gatherings or parties
  • Trying not to graze
  • Preparing homecooked meals and avoiding takeout
  • Filling your plate once and avoiding second helpings
  • Bringing a healthy dish to a potluck that you can enjoy

3. Dress Warm

Blustery winters may put you at risk for hypothermia and illness. Dress warmly when you go outside with layers of clothing, boots, gloves and a heavy coat.

When your body is exposed to the cold for a long time, it uses up stored energy, and your temperature will drop below 95 F. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs of hypothermia may include shivering, fatigue, sudden confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and feeling drowsy.

Seasonal influenza (flu) is also most common during the winter months. In the United States, peak flu activity occurs between December and February but can last until May. You can protect yourself from severe strains by getting an annual vaccine.

4. Avoid Injury

You’re more likely to lose your footing or control of your car when there’s snow and ice on the ground.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that 24% of vehicle crashes occur annually on icy, snowy roads. Additionally, over 20,000 occupational injuries occurred in 2017 due to slipping or falling on ice, sleet or snow.

Winter weather-related injuries can happen to anyone at any age and are especially dangerous for elderly and disabled people. Individuals who require a wheelchair have to be extremely careful in the winter and take special precautions to protect themselves, such as switching to snow tires for better traction and waterproofing the joystick or controller.

Others should wear slip-resistant shoes, walk with free hands for better balance, use railings to hold onto and wipe their feet when walking inside.

5. Sleep Well

We all need a restful night’s sleep for health, concentration, mood and better work quality. The circadian rhythm is the body’s way of telling us to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light. However, our sleep patterns may be thrown off in the winter months.

Although 34% of people report sleeping better in the winter, colder temperatures may keep others awake, while insomnia may affect those with SAD. 

Adults ages 18 to 64 need about seven hours of sleep every night. Older adults require about seven to nine hours of sleep. Ways to have a more restful night in the wintertime include:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  • Using earplugs or heavy shades to block out noise and light
  • Not drinking caffeinated beverages after a particular hour of the day
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Avoiding exercise too close to bedtime

If you struggle with sleeping, you may want to consult with your doctor to participate in a study for apnea or get a prescription for sleep medicine.

6. Beat Stress

The holiday season and waiting for springtime can be stressful for some people. While the holidays allow us to spend time with our family and friends, we’re not immune to long lines, crowds, time constraints, conflicts and feelings of overwhelm.

Chronic stress can lead to serious problems related to sleep and sickness. When cortisol levels in the body are raised for an extended period, you risk the following:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Weight gain
  • Digestive issues
  • Frequent headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Inability to concentrate

To cope with stress during the winter, take time to reflect on what makes you happy, make plans, learn to say no to things you don’t feel like doing and find mindfulness tools to help you manage your anxiety more effectively. Meditation is a great way to ease your mind, as is journaling.

Have a Fun and Safe Winter This Year

Winter doesn’t have to be a drab and dreary time when you’re just waiting around for flowers to bud. There is so much to enjoy and participate in, even when there’s snow on the ground. Keep yourself safe and healthy this winter, and appreciate all the season offers.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 24, 2023

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