Posted by: Chelsea Hampton | November 1, 2012

Cold Weather Wellness Savvy – Part I

The cold and snow has already arrived, and there are plenty of areas in life which can benefit from a little “winterizing.” This time of year brings hazardous conditions, additional health risks and susceptibility to illness, and requires some extra precautions for certain daily activities. While health and safety should be top priorities, this doesn’t mean that one has to stay cooped up indoors all winter. Cold weather wellness requires increased awareness of risks and implementing some simple steps to reduce hazards during this chilly season. There are actually a lot of other risks besides the more commonly known issue of hypothermia. While staying safe and healthy may require a little extra effort, your health is worth it! Read on to learn more about the risks and hazards associated with cold weather seasons.

Cardiovascular Problems and Cold Weather

According to an AARP article, there is evidence showing a strong correlation between cold temperatures and increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Exposure to cold temperatures can cause arteries and blood vessels to constrict, thus also increasing blood pressure. Cold temperatures can have a significant impact on the body, which is why it is also important to limit strenuous activities in cold weather if a heart condition (or other health risk) is present. An article from abcNews highlights these issues as well and stresses the dangers of shoveling snow. Check out the video from abcNews at: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/heart-attacks-winter-dangers/story?id=12494001#.UIrof2c–Sq.

Colds, Flu and Other Illnesses

Nasty bugs seem to run rampant during the colder seasons, and there are several reasons for this. Flu season peaks during the colder months, and people may have more exposure due to staying indoors more frequently.  Cold weather can also put stress on the immune system, though this is not necessarily a direct cause of illness. It is actually the myriad of other stressors and activities in conjunction with cold and flu season that can lead to the downward spiral of compromised immunity. The holiday season often includes parties, family gatherings, financial stress, inadequate sleep, and over-indulgence with food and alcohol. Lack of self-care and accumulating stress opens the door to susceptibility for catching illnesses. Certain populations, such as babies, older adults, and individuals with suppressed immunity, are at an increased risk for catching whatever bugs are going around. Furthermore, cold weather may worsen conditions for individuals with pre-existing health issues. Lung conditions in particular, such as asthma, may be aggravated by the cold weather, and illnesses like the flu can result in pneumonia for at-risk populations. Check out the CDC reports on flu activity at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm.

Injuries and Lack of Preparation

Snow, ice and cold can lead to falls, auto accidents and hypothermia. Bad weather can create a hazardous environment very quickly, and all too often steps are not taken for being adequately prepared. Hazards within the home include power outages, carbon monoxide dangers, poor heating and inadequate winterizing. Older adults, babies, and individuals with health conditions may be especially vulnerable to cold, so it is important to have a heat source that can be maintained if a power outage occurs. Persons with certain medical and/or oxygen needs should keep a power generator on hand at all times as well. Outdoors, cold-weather illness and injury can happen quickly and without immediately realizing it. Hypothermia and frostbite are real dangers, and individuals should always dress appropriately if going out into cold weather. Bad weather conditions obviously make driving dangerous as well, and the risks are further compounded because the cold weather seasons are a time for frequent travel. There are a host of hazards that arrive with snow, ice and cold, but many dangers can be prevented with a little preparation and cold weather savvy. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has excellent information on winter storms and hazards which can be accessed at:  http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/winterstorms.html.

Information obtained and adapted from the following sources:

-Kirchheimer, Sid. (2011). 5 Hidden health dangers of winter: How to stay safe when the cold can play havoc with heart, blood pressure and lungs. AARP Bulletin. Retrieved from: http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-12-2010/hidden_health_dangers_of_winter.html.

-Park, Madison. (2010). Four ways to avoid getting sick during the holiday season. CNN Health. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/12/20/sick.holidays/index.html.

-Conley, Mikaela. (2010). Snow shoveling may put hearts at risk. abcNews. Retrieved from:  http://abcnews.go.com/Health/heart-attacks-winter-dangers/story?id=12494001#.UIrof2c–Sq.

– U.S. Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Winter Storms.  Retrieved from: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/winterstorms.html.

This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.

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