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Tips for staying safe and healthy during winter

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- With snow and other weather hazards, winter carries with it a unique set of issues that can impact health and overall well-being. January is Winter Safety Month, and extreme winter weather, including hypothermia and frostbite, can be a health risk.

Capt. Regan Stiegmann is a Preventive Medicine resident at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and she has a few tips you can use to make sure you’re prepared physically and mentally for the winter season:

Tip #1: Individual Health and Safety

Stiegmann said, “If it’s cold outside, people typically drink less water. Stay hydrated and find ways to stay motivated to keep eating healthy food.”

People tend to want to stay indoors when it’s cold. They don’t go out as much. They don’t want to exercise.

She said, “It’s not as easy as it is on a spring day when it’s 65 degrees and pleasant out. It’s important to find the motivation to keep doing the things that are easier in other seasons like running, walking, or swimming.”

A good way to stem the falloff during the winter is to find a partner to accompany you in activities. Family members, friends, co-workers can all be a good source of motivation.

“Partnering together can help make it easier to approach nutrition and cooking healthy foods, and it can also help with the physical activity part as well,” she said. “It helps when you have a comrade to pal around with who helps to encourage you to progress and succeed.”

Tip #2: Use a little foresight

The colder it gets outside, the more we tend to turn to items that have been idle for most of the rest of the year. Space heaters get a lot more use during this time.

Stiegmann said, “When you start to think about increasing your use of personal heaters at home, that should also make you automatically check   the batteries in your smoke detector.” She added carbon monoxide detectors should be checked as well.

Tip #3: What’s it like outside?

Pay attention to the weather. Prepare for the possibility of snow, ice, sleet and rain. Dressing for the occasion is a must, but you can also keep an extra jacket or pair of gloves in your car or at work just in case.

“Being prepared is better than wishing you were prepared,” Stiegmann said. ‘It’s simple to keep your car stocked with weather-specific items. Keep a blanket or jacket with you in case you have an accident or so you can be prepared for when someone else needs your assistance.”

Tip #4: Don’t neglect seeing your doctor

If you’re starting to feel low over the course of several weeks, feeling sad several days in a row, less energized, or if you notice a change in your sleep habits or a sudden change in weight, these could be symptoms of a bigger health issue.

Stiegmann said, “Seasonal Affective Disorder is something you think about as a provider. Don’t just blame it on the cold. It’s a cyclical condition your doctor can discuss further with you.”

She said you shouldn’t skip the doctor just because you don’t know things like that exist. The best way to know if something’s wrong is by using your own personal baseline and discussing any changes with your doctor.

Tip #5: Motivating others and staying motivated yourself

It’s going to be cold tomorrow, and you’re probably going to stay inside. What can you do today to prepare?

Stiegmann said, “Offer suggestions to a friend. Tell them you know it’s going to snow. Maybe on Friday to prepare for the snow on Saturday you go to the store, get all the ingredients you’ll need for meals for the day, and stay prepped for the weekend.”

She said once the snow actually hits, people get a lot less motivated to do anything.

“Exercise, and specifically vigorous exercise like jogging or running can be a lot easier with another person.” She said being physically active with others helps distract your brain, too. “Even if it’s less palatable to be outside when it’s cold, you can through the motions together. You can walk a mile or two miles together instead of giving up and surrendering to the elements.”

Stiegmann said the idea of preparing for a cold, wintry day can be extended to a longer time period as well.

“Plan ahead for meals throughout the week with meal-prep,” she said. “Get all the ingredients for a week’s worth of food, prepare it, pack it, and then you’ll have five days of lunch for yourself in one preparation session. Doing it all at once means less time spent worrying about it later.”

She said during the winter every little bit counts when it comes to staying healthy, and preparing in advance just helps take one less thing off your plate.