FOUR WAYS to AVOID HEALTH-RELATED WINTER WOES
It’s HERE! With what was such a beautiful summer behind us, the winter months have inevitably arrived. Winter brings with it many exciting things to look forward to, like the holiday season, spending time with family and friends and many wonderful outdoor activities like skiing, skating and sledding. However, it also brings about many changes in the weather that may pose risks to our health. The change in temperature, inevitable precipitation and even reduced day-light hours can all have various effects on our health but there are things that we can do to minimize these risks.
As picturesque and beautiful as a heavy snow fall might be nestled on the tree branches, unfortunately, it poses potential driving and walking hazards when it fills our drive and walkways. Consequently, it must be removed from these locations and shoveling it is often our best and only option. The repetitive lifting associated with shoveling and the weight involved (especially as it starts to melt) may pose the risk of sustaining sprain/strain type injuries. In order to minimize these risks it is important to consider proper lifting techniques and warm-up/stretching exercises both before and after engaging in this often daunting task.
As the temperature outside drops, our bodies will react accordingly in an attempt to maintain our core temperature. This reaction typically involves the over-activity of muscles as when the muscles contract they generate heat. These contractions may occur in the form of shivering or regionalized muscular spasm. However, this over-activity of the muscles will limit the ability of the joints that they cross to move and properly disperse stresses. This resulting immobility will lead to inflammation within the joints and muscles and if the problem persists, the joints will begin to break down and leading to degenerative arthritis. For this reason, it is important that when we are experiencing colder temperatures or are outside for a prolonged period that we dress appropriately. Aside from bundling up, proper attire should include headwear (we lose a large amount of heat through the head) and neckwear (to minimize spasm of the neck/upper back muscles and seals the top of the jacket to reduce loss of body heat through the opening for the neck).
As we progress into winter, the hours of daylight are also replaced by prolonged darkness and this may have many pronounced and varying effects on our health. As ultraviolet rays from the sun are absorbed by our skin, the skin functions to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that serves many purposes within our bodies. It promotes calcium absorption along our digestive tract thus reducing the risk of developing conditions like rickets and osteoporosis, promotes neuromuscular and immune function, and reduces inflammation. During the winter months with less time available to spend in the sunlight many people may become deficient regarding this very important vitamin. Based on the wide-array of effects that this vitamin has, we can see the wide-variety of conditions that may result from its deficiency. Some of the best ways to ensure proper levels are maintained include proper rest and diet (supplementation may be an option), phototherapy, and adequate time spent doing outdoor activities.
Finally, as ice and snow begin to cover our roads and walkways there is always an increased risk of slips, falls, and motor vehicle accidents during the winter months. Regardless of how severe (or not) you consider the accident and resulting injuries to have been, it is always best to have your healthcare provider perform an examination following any trauma. The examination will allow your provider to determine the extent of your injuries, if/when treatment may be required and if there could be any long term effects resulting from the accident. Addressing these issues sooner rather than later may prevent your condition from developing into something much more serious in the future. Please feel free to discuss any or all of these four ways to minimize these health-related winter woes with your healthcare provider at any Optimum Wellness Center.
Dr. Ryan V. Auger B.Sc., D.C.
Dr. Auger works at our Deerfoot location