As the weather changes, now’s a good time to prepare for staying healthy this winter. Granted, there are plenty of challenges for many seniors from the cold to isolation to colds, flu and COVID-19, there are plenty of ways seniors can maintain their health even on the coldest days. Here are tips to make winter healthy.
6 Ways to Stay in Good Health
Let in the light —
As winter approaches the days become shorter which means it’s difficult to get enough sunshine to stay healthy for two reasons. First, we need sunshine to produce Vitamin D, aka the sunshine vitamin, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Second, a lack of natural light can also contribute to the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression once called the “winter blues.” According to the Mayo Clinic article “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed, hopeless or guilty, trouble sleeping, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and having thoughts of suicide. Although SAD can occur during the summer too, it’s most common during the fall and winter and is thought to be connected to changes in the body’s biological clock or circadian rhythm as well in changes in levels of the chemicals serotonin and melatonin. If possible, seniors should allow as much natural light in as possible and spend time in the sun either indoors or outdoors. Another option is SAD light therapy via a special lamp that gives off white light and helps minimize the effects of SAD.
Avoid infections —
Needless to say, winter is cold and flu season so getting all the recommended vaccinations in time to boost your immunity is key to staying healthy. It is also interesting to note that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the winter of 2020, influenza activity was “unusually low” worldwide, which it attributes to the COVID-19 lockdown, as well as better personal hygiene, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing. Even though life is somewhat more normal now, it’s wise to remain vigilant not only about COVID-19, but about colds, flu, pneumonia, and other bacterial and viral infections. Especially when visiting or having visitors for the holidays, seniors should follow tips from the CDC detailed in their article, “Safer Ways to Celebrate the Holidays.”
Be cold smart —
It can be fun and healthful to spend time outdoors in the winter, when the appropriate clothing is worn. Seniors are especially prone to hypothermia, which is when the body cools to 95 degrees or lower and loses heat faster than it can produce it. The results can be deadly so seniors should always dress for the weather in layers, and wear hats, scarves, gloves or mittens, and insulated boots. Also keep in mind that some health conditions can impact how the cold affects the body, especially diabetes, thyroid problems, and disease like arthritis that make it difficult to get clothes on. Seniors should also stay warm indoors by wearing an extra layer of clothes and keeping the thermostat set to a comfortable temperature. Find out more about senior safety in the National Institutes of Health article, “Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults.”
Beware the snow —
Winter also poses challenges for seniors with snow and ice. A big snowfall can be beautiful, but for seniors it can mean the dangers of shoveling are at hand. These include back injuries, falls, broken bones, cuts, and injuries due to heart problems. In fact, according to the WebMD article, “Shoveling Snow Injures Thousands Each Year,” “Adults over 55 were 4.25 times more likely than younger people to have heart-related symptoms while shoveling.” If possible, leave the shoveling to the professionals or neighbor kids, or at minimum use a snow blower to minimize physical strain. Also wear slip-resistant boots, head and hand gear, and stop when you are tired.
Ramp up nutrition —
When its cold many people feel compelled to eat heavier meals than they would during the heat of summer. This can lead to weight gain, especially when seniors cannot safely go outside and get exercise to counter the extra calories. To be sure of a healthy diet, check out the great resources at nutrition.gov including using the nutrition facts label for older adults, how to choose healthy meals as you get older, and smart food choices for healthy aging.
Insulate against isolation —
Staying connected during the winter can be especially difficult for seniors who become isolated thanks to the weather. But there are many ways to stay in touch and avoid the feelings of depression and loneliness associated with isolation. When safe, invite family or friends to stop over and share lunch, coffee or just time together. For those separated by distance, Zoom calls can be made from any smart phone or tablet, and we can still just call on the phone and catch up with loved ones. For more about loneliness and how to beat it, read our blog, “Senior Health: 5 Reasons Not to Ignore Loneliness.”
Residents of Ganton’s Countryside have a host of fun and safe things to do during winter to stay fit and enjoy life safely. For more information about Countryside, please call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities.