How to escape the blahs, sniffles, and aches of winter
People often ask how they can best remain healthy during the winter months. No wonder. Winter is a time of increased infections, loneliness, depression, and weight gain. People tend to drink more alcohol and have more dietary indiscretions. Some sleep too much, some sleep too little. Children and adults alike get less exercise and watch more television. So how do you keep yourself healthy?
First, make a plan for and commit to regular exercise. One half to one hour daily is suggested. Do something that you like. Feel free to vary the routine, or keep it steady, but force yourself to do it daily for the first two weeks. After that it becomes routine, and you will find it difficult to stop.
Exercise burns calories, strengthens your muscles - including your heart, increases bone density, and releases endorphins in your brain, which are morphine-like chemicals that give you a sense of well-being. If you are a loner, you may want to exercise alone. If you feel lonely, exercise with others at Island gyms or senior centers.
Spend time with family and friends
Next, schedule activities around and with family and friends. If you do not have family or friends nearby, then find ways to meet new people. Look in the local newspaper and find activities to join that would help you to meet like-minded people. Individuals who have satisfying relationships with others enjoy better health overall. Studies have shown that interacting with others has a positive impact on victims of heart attacks, strokes, depression, infections of all sorts, and even cancer.
See your doctor
If you have had any medical complaints, this is a good time to see your doctor or other health-care provider.
Some questions to ask yourself: Do I hear and see well; has my memory changed; do I have headaches, dizzy spells, aching joints, chest pains, or pressure; am I short of breath when resting or working; do I cough regularly; have my bowel habits changed; do I have any problems with my urine, my male or female parts; am I bruising easily or bleeding anywhere; do I have a skin rash, numbness, or tingling anywhere; how much am I smoking, drinking alcohol, or caffeine; do I take any non-prescribed drugs on a regular basis; and finally, do I enjoy most days?
It is also advisable to assess the health problems that run in your family. Many of these may be prevented, treated, cured, or controlled if detected early.
Speak to your health-care provider, and make sure you are up-to-date on your health maintenance: pap tests for women and immunizations. Adults need tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines every 10 years, and the influenza vaccine yearly for those 65 years of age and older and those with chronic medical conditions. Pneumovax, the pneumonia shot, is given once in a lifetime for the same group who get flu shots yearly. There are other assorted immunizations that you may need.
It is also important for all adults to be stratified for risk of cardiovascular disease, which should be managed accordingly since heart attacks are the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Talk to your doctor about this. You can visit the site for the United States Preventative Task Force (http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstfix.htm#Recommendations) to see what is suggested for you.
And then, using common sense, avoid contact with anyone who is obviously sick with an infection of some sort (cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, pink eye, diarrhea, etc), and if you do get in contact, wash your hands and around your mouth frequently.
An ounce of prevention
Other healthy ideas: Get eight hours of sleep a day; read something daily as this helps prevent memory issues later.
There are benefits in what you don't do as well, such as not watching too much TV. Studies have shown that people who watch TV excessively have shorter attention spans, do less exercise, eat more junk food, and are exposed to more violence.
Finally, but importantly, make a plan for your eating habits and stick to it. It is recommended that we eat five to seven fruits and vegetables daily and drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water daily. Women need the daily equivalent two grams of calcium. Individuals over 40 years of age are advised to take one aspirin daily (325 mg or 81 mg) in order to decrease their risk of strokes, heart attacks, Alzheimer's disease, and colon cancer.
Dr. Judith Fisher is a family physician at Martha's Vineyard Hospital. A 1978 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, she has an extensive medical and academic background in community health care and family medicine. Send health questions to Dr. Fisher c/o The Martha's Vineyard Times, P.O. Box 518, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.