March 2017

Spring Ahead to Better Health

March 22, 2017

Board Certified Internist and Entrepreneur in Residence Dr. Nancy Simpkins kickstarts your well-being for the months ahead.

From Nancy: In the spirit of “springing ahead,” it’s important to reset not only our clocks. We also need to take a look at our health and see what we can do to get ourselves ready for the season.

Start allergy treatments early

When we thaw out from winter and say goodbye to colds, viruses and the flu, we face other health obstacles. For one, spring allergies start as the snow and ice begin to melt—long before spring officially arrives. If you tend to have sneezing, itchy eyes or nasal congestion, it is important to start your oral antihistamines (like Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec) or nasal steroid sprays (like Nasacort) well before the symptoms start. Allergists recommend beginning by March 1st and continuing through full-bloom season (which, for most people, is July 4th). Of course, allergies are very individual and you should start and finish according to your own doctor.

Ease into getting in shape

What about our winter bodies? How do we get back in shape without getting injured? The easiest way to start a new exercise program is by walking. Get outside and walk for 20 minutes a day at a brisk pace—your brain and your body will thank you. When you master 20 minutes of walking, think about interval training. You can even use the telephone poles, trees or street signs in your neighborhood as milestones. For example, walk for two street signs and start jogging at the third one, repeating this pattern for 30 minutes. You will be sweating, burning calories and raising your endorphins in no time.

Make better food choices

Along with increasing our spring exercise, we need to eat healthier. We are done with Sunday football and winter blues. Start yourself on a “spring cleaning diet” and eliminate the five leading offenders in your diet. If you are a beer and chips girl, get rid of them, stat. How about the vending machines during the day? Eliminate those also. For me, it’s the bread basket at the restaurant, M&M’s, York Peppermint Patties, pasta and pizza. With those major offenders out of the way, the rest of the slip-ups are far less troublesome.

Schedule some routine visits with your medical team (don’t have a medical team? Get one)

In addition to exercise and revamping your diet, focus on your body with a spring checklist. Did you see your gynecologist this year? Did you have a pap smear? Did you see your internist for routine exam and screening blood work? Are your vaccinations up to date? The average healthy woman needs to do a few things each year to stay in shape. A gynecology appointment is not up for discussion. There are many female diseases that start young in life and an annual exam is your first step towards prevention. Cervical cancer is the perfect example. A yearly pap smear and an HPV (human papillomavirus) screening can prevent up to 90% of cervical cancers. Ask your doctor if you need an HPV screening at your next visit. What about your annual visit to your internist and your screening blood work? This allows you time to discuss any and all concerns you have—such as indigestion, headaches, weight gain or loss etc. Your blood work will screen for anemia, thyroid disease, kidney disease and liver disease. What about your heart? Do you know your average blood pressure? All of this data will help you to live a healthy long life.

Protect your skin

One last important tidbit for increasing our health in the spring pertains to increased natural sunlight. We all know that sunscreen is a must on our faces every day of the year to prevent sun damage, as 80% of skin cancers occur on the face. The flipside is that 15 minutes of sunlight on our arms without sunscreen every day is the adequate amount of vitamin D that we need to be healthy. So roll up your sleeves, take a walk at lunchtime and let the sunshine naturally restore your vitamin D supply that has dissipated during the long winter months.

For more from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online.

The Most Common Cold-Weather Health Risks (and How to Avoid Them!)

March 10, 2017

From Nancy: When the weather is cold, viruses can easily multiply and other health worries, like increasing asthma attacks, broken bones and seasonal affective disorder, are rampant. Here’s how to guard yourself from winter’s most common woes:

Colds and Viruses

There are many factors that cause us to catch more colds and viruses in chilly weather. People huddling inside in close quarters exchange germs and rhinoviruses, the most common cause of colds, tend to replicate in the winter. To avoid getting sick, eat healthy—that means extra fruit and vegetables with vitamins. Keep your body moving with exercise. Sleep is especially important during cold and flu season, as you regenerate your immune system overnight.

Asthma and Bronchitis

As the weather turns cold, our airways constrict to protect our lungs. People with underlying bronchospasm, asthma or bronchitis tend to get more frequent attacks and require more use of their inhalers and other meds. It is best to cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when outside for prolonged periods of time. The scarf acts as a barrier to the cold air.

Poor Diet and Exercise

We tend to curl up on the couch and eat comfort food during the winter. Realize that a healthy diet is a year-round commitment. Even in the cold weather, we can eat things like homemade vegetable soup or turkey chili. Our exercise routine does not need to change in the cold weather unless you are an outdoor runner or walker. Getting outside when the weather is brisk is a natural upper to your spirits and good for your heart. So, if possible, continue your outdoor exercise routine, but beware of black ice—even young bones can break when a fall occurs. If outside is not an option due to weather, choose to stay in shape with a home exercise routine or by walking a flight of stairs several times a day.


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. It’s based on lack of sunlight and lower serotonin levels and it begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. Symptoms include feeling sad, grumpy, moody or anxious. You lose interest in your usual activities, eat more and crave carbohydrates. Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. Anyone can get SAD, but it’s more common in women and people who live in the Northern hemisphere.

Cold weather seems like it brings a funk to health and wellness but it has its upsides, too. There is no heat or humidity to deal with on your run or walk. You will be able to work out longer and burn more calories. You can take in sunlight and vitamin D without worrying about a sunburn.

So, stay warm, stay safe and stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing. Enjoy the season for the unique benefits it offers and when day after day in your puffer coat starts to get you down, don’t despair—spring is right around the corner!

For more from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online at

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