Winter Wellness Checklist

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Winter may appear pure, white and peaceful, but all of that frosty air comes with a bite. Falls are more common (thanks to slippery ice), depression peaks from dark and dreary days and many people decide to ditch their healthy habits as the year comes to an end. Plus, when snow falls outside, people huddle together indoors where they share food, hugs and a whole lot more. Add it all together and you have a perfect breeding ground for colds and flu.

“Close contact with other people, along with the natural cycle of the flu, makes winter a prime time for people to get sick,” explains Rachel Lee, M.D., family medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System.

So, while you’re enjoying winter’s wonderland, take these eight precautions to protect yourself from seasonal threats:

  1. Get your shots. Make sure you and your family, including children over six months, are up to date on vaccinations, including the annual flu shot. If you have a chronic disease (including hypertension, asthma and heart disease) or are over the age of 65, ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for the pneumonia vaccine.
  2. Wash your hands. Frequent hand-washing is the single best way to prevent spreading illness from person to person or from person to things. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds – about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Hand sanitizers make a good substitute, according to Lee, but only when soap and water is not available.
  3. Stick with your healthy routine. With holiday travel, seemingly constant celebrations and never-ending buffet lines, it’s not uncommon for people to throw in the towel in terms of diet and exercise during the last few months of the year. You can support your immune system by sticking with your healthy habits. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and make time for exercise. “I always encourage people to stay active during the winter,” Dr. Lee says. “Studies show it helps prevent colds. It also helps mitigate seasonal depression.”
  4. Keep it clean. Whether you’re traveling in an airport or staying close to home, take steps to clean your environment. Carry disinfectant wipes in your travel bag, wash your hands frequently, and keep indoor air pure by wiping down surfaces regularly and using a HEPA air purifier.
  5. Protect against falls. Slippery ice and powder-packed snow make falls more common during this time of year. Surfaces covered with black ice can be particularly hazardous. “Watch your step, wear appropriate footwear and give yourself extra time to get somewhere,” says Dr. Lee.
  6. Get outdoors. While you may feel like spending more time inside as the temps get colder, getting outside in the sunshine is key to health and well-being. Our bodies make vitamin D when we’re exposed to sunlight, and this helps support your immune system. In addition, braving the elements has mood-boosting effects. “Invest in a good coat, good boots and all of the outerwear you need to get outside and play,” Dr. Lee says.
  7. Hydrate. When it’s damp, dark and dreary, you may not feel as thirsty as you do when temperatures are high. But staying hydrated is still important when it’s cold outside. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day and load up on water-rich fruits and vegetables like oranges, salad greens and squash.
  8. Take care of your skin. When you’re bundled up in layers, it’s easy to forget about your skin. Not only is it the largest organ of your body, it’s also an entry point for infection. The good news: You can build a barrier between yourself and the elements by using moisture-rich creams, especially after a bath or shower when your skin is still damp, to lock in moisture.

More important than anything else, make sure you prioritize self-care. Commit to managing your stress levels and getting the sleep you need. Small steps go a long way toward protecting you from illness and disease.


Make an appointment or find a provider by visiting henryford.com or calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Dr. Rachel Lee is a board-certified family medicine physician and sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Harbortown in Detroit.

Categories: FeelWell