The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

November 1, 2012

We prepare our cars for cold weather, why not our bodies?

JOPLIN, Mo. — Forget about the projections of a warmer winter, thanks to warm and cold currents in the ocean. Winter is coming, and our bodies know it.

That will affect our energy levels, no matter how far the mercury drops this year, said Jennifer Jameson, fitness and aquatic director for Joplin Family Y.

“As the weather gets colder, we’ll all find that we are going to get tired and lethargic,” Jameson said. “That’s the mode we’ll go into. We’ll want to become inactive.”

The biggest way we can winterize ourselves and our kids, she said, is to plan to stay active.

From taking classes at a fitness center to simply walking at the mall, it’s even more important to get some exercise this winter, she said. Physical activity increases endorphins, Jameson said, which go a long way toward improving moods and energy levels.

“The thing I stress to my clients is to stay active,” Jameson said. “Make yourself get out of the house. Being active is key to a good energy level.”

Chilled challenges

A report from Scripps Howard News Service spotted specific challenges that winter throws our way, including:

More weight: Holidays, high-carb comfort foods and hibernation mean weight gain. It gets harder to shed weight because each year people tend to lose half a pound of muscle mass and add a pound of fat.

What to do: Drink lots of water, eat more whole grains and a rainbow of vegetables, eat within an hour of waking, control portions and stay physically active. Cool the bedroom at night to sleep better because people with five or fewer hours of sleep a night are 50 percent more likely to be obese than those getting seven to nine hours.

More grumpiness: Shorter days mean less sunlight, the doorway to seasonal affective disorder, a condition as bad as it sounds.

Seasonal affective disorder can start around now, worsening as the winter deepens and daily sunlight shrinks to less than nine hours. It's worse for the half of adolescents who are already sleep-deprived (compared with 30 percent of adults), said Dr. Conrad Iber, director of the Fairview sleep program at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

What to do: Most helpful will be sunlight or its electric equivalent on your face (the strongest receptors are in your eyes), exercise, socializing and plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin D. Manage your day so you get enough sleep -- key for mental and physical competence on tests or at work, playing sports or an instrument and retaining a good mood.

Tougher skin: Cold air and low humidity can dry and thicken the skin to help protect inside tissue but can lead to chapped or cracked skin and lips.

What to do: Wear protective clothing and use moisturizer to avoid chapped hands and face. Consider shortening baths and showers and applying baby or mineral oil on the skin afterward.

Colds and flu: The cold and flu viruses like how we're all cooped up a lot more.

What to do: A good, balanced diet, exercise, fresh air and adequate sleep will help keep your resistance up. Get a flu shot.

Blood-flow change: Your body adapts to the cold by shifting more blood flow to interior organs and away from your hands, feet and face. That's good for survival but can be bad for feet and hands.

What to do: Regular exercise and a good diet will keep your circulation balanced so that you're less likely to have circulatory problems. Wear layers, and cover your wrists, ankles and head when you're outside on cold days, to minimize heat loss.

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