Tips for Staying Healthy Throughout the Winter Months

When winter hits, our bodies change. Our lips get chapped, our skin dries out, and our mood may vary like the weather. Often, we don’t get as much exercise as we did in the warmer weather, our exposure to the sun is limited, and the contrast between the extreme cold outdoors and the constant dry air indoors from radiators and heating systems plays havoc with our skin, respiratory and circulatory systems.

Here are suggested practices that can help us feel healthier in the winter, physically and mentally:

  • For chapped lips, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and use a humidifier at home – especially in your bedroom – or in your office and other living areas, if possible. Liberally apply a lip balm with sunscreen, beeswax or petroleum jelly to your lips every time you go outside, and try to avoid licking your lips, which may crack the skin.
  • For dried skin and hands, it’s important to replace essential oils that treat and preserve the skin, and to wear gloves when outdoors. Try to keep hands as dry as possible, though don’t stop washing your hands regularly to avoid germs. Apply glycerin-based moisturizer when you awake, before you retire for the evening, and whenever your hands feel dry throughout the day.

Also, avoid soaps that further dry out your skin. Replace them with super-fatted, fragrance-free soaps, whether bar or liquid, for cleansing, and moisturizers. Humectants – like urea, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and propylene glycol – absorb water from the air. They are oil-free. Emollients like baby or mineral oil, plant oils (like jojoba oil), petroleum jelly, lanolin, stearic acid – replace oils in the skin. Many moisturizers contain a combination. You may want to skip some anti-aging moisturizers in winter. Those that contain retinoids can further irritate already dry, sensitive skin.

  • Exfoliate. To get the most out of your moisturizer, exfoliate. Clearing away dead skin cells lets a moisturizer better penetrate dry skin. Exfoliate gently with a moisturizer that contains lactic acid or salicylic acid. If your skin is really dry or irritated, ask your doctor before starting a new skin care product or regimen. Don’t forget feet and heels, too, which tend to get dry and chapped in the winter.
  • Adjust showers. Long, hot showers can actually draw water from our skin. Appealing as a hot shower is on a cold morning, lukewarm water is a better choice. It won’t strip away skin’s natural oils. And a glycerin- or hyaluronic acid-based moisturizer can increase the amount of water that’s drawn into your skin. Baby oil (mineral oil) is also a good choice, because it prevents water from evaporating from your skin. Also, if possible, shampoo every other day instead of daily. Shampoos and excess shampooing can strip hair of moisture. Use warm water and a mild shampoo with sunscreen. Apply extra conditioner to keep your hair hydrated, shiny and soft. Don’t over-style with the blow dryer or flat iron, and protect your hair from the elements by wearing a hat.
  • Wear sunscreen when outdoors. Skiers and other winter athletes are at special risk of sunburn because snow reflects sunlight. In fact, it bounces 80 percent of the sun’s rays back to us, compared to less than 20 percent for sand and surf. Even if you’re not exercising or recreating outdoors, you still need the protection of a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Apply daily, and reapply at least every two hours if you’re outside.
  • Dress for the weather. It sounds like obvious advice, but look around you when you’re outdoors, and you’ll notice many people dressed improperly for the cold. Frostnip – a mild form of frostbite – tends to affect the earlobes, cheeks, nose, fingers, and toes. Signs of frostnip include pale skin, numbness, or tingling in the affected area. Avoid frostnip by dressing warmly – including hat, ear muffs, and gloves. The best treatment is to re-warm the affected areas; although frostnip is uncomfortable, it doesn’t cause any damage to skin.

Frostbite, however, is far more serious and can cause lasting damage. Deeper tissues freeze, causing skin to become hard, pale, and cold. It may ache but lack sensitivity to touch. As the area thaws, it becomes red and painful. Hands, feet, nose and ears are most vulnerable, but any body part can be affected. Treat frostbite by getting to a warm place, wrapping affected areas in sterile dressings (separate fingers and toes) and going to an emergency department immediately. Don’t rewarm affected areas if there’s a chance they could freeze again.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated! Also, be aware of liquids like coffee and alcohol that do not hydrate. To the contrary, they have dieretic effects, which cause you to lose more fluid from your body or, in the case of alcohol, lower your body temperature. Dehydration also weakens our immune system, making our bodies less effective in fighting off colds, flu and other infections. 
  • Get plenty of rest. When we sleep, our body recovers, refreshes and recharges. Sleep is crucial for our body to replenish and boost our immune system to fight off infections and keep us healthy. When we are run down, sleep deprived, and/or stressed, our immune defenses are down and our body is more susceptible to illness. 
  • Eat properly and healthfully. Eating a balanced diet is a key to staying healthy. Getting essential nutrients by eating fruits and vegetables and limiting unhealthy fats will keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Drink more milk, particularly low-fat if possible, and include five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Avoid sugary treats, and try winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips. Also, ingesting foods with essential fatty acids like omega-3s help make up skin’s natural, moisture-retaining oil barrier. Add essential fatty acid boost with omega-3-rich foods like flax, walnuts, and safflower oil, as well as cold-water fish such as tuna, herring, halibut, salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
  • Continue exercising. No matter the weather, walking, at the very least, is important to cardiac and respiratory health and to help us maintain a healthier weight. Walk indoors, go to a gym, mall or fitness center, or dress properly for the weather and walk, hike, cross-country or downhill ski, ice skate . . . it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you remain active!

# # #

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!