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.

SAD

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 nancysimpkinsmd.com.