Stay healthy this winter
While the cold weather doesn’t have a direct effect on your chances of contracting a virus, it does force people to stay indoors
When the air turns cold, the chances of falling ill are high. But there are ways you can build up resistance. Here are some tips:
Cold weather may not have a direct effect on your chances of contracting a virus but it does force people to stay indoors. And a cold or flu can spread easily in proximity. Research also shows the flu virus is more stable and stays in the air longer when the air is cold and dry.
Protect yourself: Get a flu vaccination every year. If you are 65 years or above, or have a chronic health condition, consider a pneumococcal vaccine shot that provides protection against pneumonia. Wash your hands regularly and avoid sharing cups, glasses and towels. And if you do catch a cold, use tissues rather than handkerchiefs to reduce chances of a relapse.
Cold air and a higher risk of upper respiratory infections can trigger asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
Protect yourself: Stay indoors on cold windy days. If you do go out, wear a scarf loosely over the nose and mouth. Take your medication regularly and keep reliever inhalers close by.
Also known as the “winter vomiting bug”, norovirus is an infectious stomach bug that can strike all year round but is more common in winter. Vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and low-grade fever are common symptoms.
Protect yourself: It is only passed on via vomit or faeces, so hygiene should be a priority. If you are infected, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, eat light food and rest.
Cold hands and feet
Raynaud’s phenomenon, a common condition that makes fingers and toes change colour, can be very painful in cold weather. Fingers can turn white and blue, and throb and tingle. The small blood vessels of the hands and feet start vasoconstricting, causing spasms and temporarily reducing blood flow to them.
Protect yourself: Don’t smoke or drink caffeine as both can worsen symptoms. Wear gloves, socks and shoes when going out.
“Winter blues” are described as a milder version of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that's related to changes in season and less sunlight. It saps energy and worsens the mood. The telltale signs include feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness, thoughts of suicide, fatigue and irritability. Some experts believe the condition could be linked to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that regulate sleep, energy and mood. This is why sleep and exercising are important to combat this.
Protect yourself: Make an effort to get sunlight. Also, ensure that you’re getting enough sleep—about 8 hours for most adults.
People who suffer from arthritis experience more pain and stiffness in winter. Also, since a worsening of mood is common in winter, this can make people perceive pain more acutely.
Protect yourself: Daily exercise can boost the mental and physical state. Wrap yourself warmly, with loose layers, and work out indoors. De-stress with a warm bath, get a massage, go for a walk in the park or listen to music. Add natural immunity builders like organic turmeric and vitamin C, either through a natural source like amla or in tablet form, to your diet.
Dry skin problems worsen in winter, when humidity is low.
Protect yourself: Avoid hot showers, these can make your skin drier and itchier. Use warm water instead. Apply moisturizer when the skin is moist i.e. after a bath, and again at bedtime.
Exercising daily can become a struggle and parties that involve large meals don’t help either.
Protect yourself: To best combat weight gain, make a conscious effort to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day—try an indoor spin class or a yoga class.
Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.