Every so often, during the cold, dark winter months, I secretly wish that I could hibernate. You know: sleep through the bitter cold and wake up to buds on the trees, birds chirping, flowers peeking through the dirt. But alas, we are not bears and don’t have the luxury of sleeping the winter away.
So, in an effort to make this winter safer, I took some tips from a recent presentation I attended and in which my colleague Juanita Allen Kingsley addressed winter health and safety for older adults. But the truth is that these tips can really apply to people of all ages.
–Get a flu shot. It’s the best protection from this seasonal illness. Flu germs remain on surfaces for eight hours, so any time you touch a surface – especially during flu season – be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap.
–After washing hands, consider using paper towels (or a hot-air drier) to dry them, since cloth towels retain moisture and can therefore serve as a breeding ground for bacteria. Also, when you’re done with the paper towel, use it to cover the door handle while you turn it, because bathroom doorknobs also likely carries plenty of germs that you don’t want on your hands.
–When you sneeze or cough, do so into the crook of your elbow. This minimizes the germs on your hands and lessens the chance of you spreading any infection you may have. Most people in an office environment would agree that if you’re sick, stay home.
–Cold temperatures make us seek out comfort (read: fattening and not-good-for-us) foods and make some of us want to forget about eating healthfully. But one way to keep the extra pounds off this winter is to drink a glass of water before each meal. It will give you the sense that your stomach is fuller and may reduce the amount of calories taken in.
–Watch your alcohol intake. Not only does alcohol disinhibit us, but it also slows down our metabolism.
–Believe it or not, you don’t really need to warm up your car in the winter for more than about 30 seconds. The engine will actually warm up faster while you drive. But if you do wish to warm up your car before driving it, don’t warm it up in a closed garage; carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal. Also, clear the tailpipe of any snow; if snow is blocking it, carbon monoxide can get into the car.
–On heating… Despite its price tag, have your chimney professionally cleaned each season. Soot accumulated from previous years’ fireplace fires can create a buildup inside a chimney that can feed chimney fire. Never use an open gas stove to heat a home, and if you use a space heater, opt for a newer model that has a sensor to automatically shut it off if it falls.
–An emergency kit in your car is always a good idea, particularly in the winter. Include a blanket, water, a hat and gloves; and trash bags. Be sure to include non-perishable foods, like granola bars. If you take medication, carry an extra dose with you in case you get stranded. And invest in a car phone charger.
–If you choose to travel in inclement weather, tell family and/or friends where you’re going and when you expect to return.
–Finally, carry identification. Include your name, address, phone number, and emergency contact and a list of the medications you take. If you have a chronic condition like diabetes, consider wearing a medical alert bracelet.
There are many factors to consider when it comes to our personal safety, especially in the winter. But by following some of these tips, you should be able to enjoy the snowfall and the beauty of any winter wonderland.
Lauren B. Schiffman is Director of Communications for Century Health Systems, the parent company of the Natick Visiting Nurse Association and Distinguished Care Options.