December 28, 2012

Contact Audra Mincey
Phone: 303-788-5920

Swedish Medical Center's Tips for Good Health This Winter

Proper Winter Care Nurtures the Mind and Body

DENVER – Most of us are no strangers to summer sun reminders to shield against skin cancer and dehydration. But few people consider the threats to good winter health. As the calendar approaches this cold and sometimes dreary season, Swedish Medical Center physicians and staff have turned the spotlight on important tips for staying healthy all winter long.


Chief among the tips is a focus on safety, says Tracey Holmberg, RN, Injury Prevention Coordinator at Swedish. Holmberg reminds individuals of all ages that winter is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, including such fun as skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating and tubing. But safety comes first. Walk cautiously and consciously, Holmberg says. Wear boots or overshoes with soles and avoid walking in shoes that have smooth surfaces, which increase the risk of slipping.

"Be alert to the possibility that you could quickly slip on an unseen patch of ice. Take small steps and look ahead to where you’re stepping. Also, avoid the temptation to run to catch a bus or beat traffic when crossing a street. Remember, too that your arms help keep you balanced, so keep hands out of pockets and avoid carrying heavy loads that may cause you to become off balance," Holmberg says. "Don’t forget to remove snow from your shoes immediately before it becomes packed or turns to ice."

Keeping porch stoops, steps, walks and driveways free of ice is also important, but shoveling can also be a threat to good health. When shoveling snow, Swedish reminds people to stand with your feet apart at hip-width, put down salt or sand if conditions are icy, don't shovel too much snow at once so you don't hurt your back. If you can, push the snow instead of lifting it, bend at your knees and keep your stomach muscles tight. Take breaks frequently because shoveling snow is like weightlifting, which can strain both your heart and your back, and finally, if you are overweight, elderly or have a history of heart or back problems, you should forgo shoveling snow altogether and use a snow blower or else have someone else shovel your snow.

Illness & Good Hygiene

Exposure to influenza is a big threat to good winter health, says Swedish Medical Center’s Carolyn Tower, Infection Prevention. Flu cases peak Jan.- Mar., so Tower says it is still effective to get a flu shot, particularly since the strains are matching. The CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone age 6 months or older, and especially for people at high risk of flu complications (this includes pregnant women, older adults, young children and those with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, sickle cell disease and kidney or liver disease.)

Proper hand hygiene also reduces your chances of being hit by the bug. Clean hands are particularly important when touching your eyes or mouth as you can infect yourself when you have contaminated hands. Wash hands for about 20 seconds if using soap and water and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door when using public faucets and door handles. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a great substitute unless hands are dirty. Remember, too, to cover coughs and sneezes, dispose of used tissues and ask others to do the same.

Proper Hydration

Despite the precipitation often associated with winter weather, most people don’t get enough fluids. Winter is no exception. The body needs fluids to fight off colds and other illnesses. Swedish physician Joel Cohen, M.D. recommends consuming six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day and limit caffeine, which draws water away from the body. In reality, winter has a drying affect on skin has well. Drinking plenty of water will not only ward off illness, it will rehydrate the skin. Dry, cracked skin exposes the body to infection – easily transferable during cold and flu season. In addition to drinking plenty of fluids, Cohen recommends using an exfoliant cleanser one to two times per week (on body) to remove dead-debris surface skin and applying lotions containing ceramides to your skin after bathing or showering. Towel dry excess water then apply the lotion for maximum results. And don’t forget to moisturize your lips, Cohen says. They, too, are vulnerable to infection.

"In general, avoid frequent hot showers and baths, use a hydrating soap rather than antibacterial, and consider sleeping with a humidifier in your bedroom," Cohen says. "And don’t forget the importance of continued sun protection the winter, especially for hiking, biking, skiing, and snowboarding. Even in winter, it’s important to wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim."

Nutrition and Exercise

Don’t overlook the benefit of good nutrition to stay healthy during the winter months. In fact, Swedish Registered Dietician Amy Vance says a hot bowl of soup is a great start. This winter, Vance urges people to experiment with adding root vegetables to soup, such as sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips and turnips, all rich in vitamin C, fiber, potassium, beta carotene and many other essential nutrients. Root vegetables can be added to casseroles and stews too. Baked sweet potatoes fries are easy to make and are a great substitute to regular French fries. Soups are a great way to add additional grains to your diet too, including wheat berries, a great source of fiber, protein, and iron. Barley is a versatile grain, high in fiber and manganese. Scientists have actually studied the effects of chicken soup and it appears it can help in everything from reducing inflammation in nasal cells to building strength with its protein-rich ingredients. Remember to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (frozen is an acceptable alternative too). In fact, reaching for a sweet, crunchy apple can offer the same satisfaction with fewer calories than grabbing cakes, candy and other desserts. Vegetables – the darker the color the better – are packed full of vitamins, something the body needs in winter. As a reminder, many people have reduced exposure to sun in the winter, which depletes the body of vitamin D. Some studies have linked a vitamin D deficiency to breast cancer and other less serious illnesses. Of course, it can be difficult to exercise in the winter, but it’s important to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. If a gym membership is too expensive and it’s too cold to walk outside, look for indoor areas to walk, such as malls. Also, indoor, community pools often provide low-cost opportunities to swim laps or participate in water aerobics classes. Just be sure to rehydrate your body and skin. Indoor pools zap your body of hydration and dry your skin.

Emotional Well Being

Two circumstances of winter can have a negative impact on a person's emotional well-being - the holidays and lack of sunlight, which leads to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Manage holiday stress by keeping a check on over commitment and overspending, says Swedish Neurologist Monique Giroux, M.D. Balance work, home and play, seeking support from family and friends, keeping a relaxed and positive outlook and getting proper sleep. Also take this time to reflect on what adds joy and meaning to your life this holiday season. Gratitude leads to a positive attitude, which has a positive impact on health and well-being. SAD, is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. For some, symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Treatment for SAD includes light therapy (phototherapy) , psychotherapy and medications. Giroux says it's important not to ignore that annual feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to
keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

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About Swedish Medical Center

Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado serves as the Rocky Mountain Region’s referral center for neurotrauma and advanced stroke care. Swedish provides the most advanced care for adult and pediatric trauma as a Level I Trauma Center and specializes in oncology services as a Commission on Cancer-approved program. Swedish offers eight distinct centers of excellence: Cancer Care Center, Emergency Services, The Heart Center, Neurosciences, including the Stroke Center, Orthopedic Services, Spine Program, Trauma Center and Women and Children’s Services. An acute care hospital with 368 licensed beds, Swedish Medical Center has been a proud member of the community for more than 100 years and also operates the Swedish Southwest ER, a full-service, free-standing ER in Jefferson County since 2005.

Annually, Swedish cares for more than 200,000 patients with a team of 2,000 dedicated employees, 300 volunteers and more than 1300 physicians. Swedish is proud to have been repeatedly awarded the Consumer Choice Award from an independent survey of the Denver community and to be the first and only hospital in Colorado to be certified four times by the Joint Commission as a Primary Stroke Center.