Spring Ahead to Better Health

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.

Ben Kruger