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Set the tone for a healthy winter

It’s December, and the official start of winter is the 21st.

Here in the Northwest, winter brings rain and more rain. And it brings a few health challenges, too. But there are steps we can take to make winter a healthy season. Here are some of our favorites.

Every breath you take…

…make it a good one. Indoor air quality can be a problem when windows are closed and heaters are running.

If wood is your heat source:

  • Make sure your wood-burning stove is in good condition, so smoke doesn’t get into your home.
  • If your stove isn’t vented to outside air, make sure your home is so your wood stoves can breathe.
  • Only burn dry wood. Green wood produces five times the amount of fine air pollution particles.
  • Keep fresh batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Test them regularly.
  • Don’t burn treated wood, particleboard, MDF, plywood or plastics. They give off toxic gases.
  • Keep a pot of water on your stove to help reduce the dry air.

If you have asthma, pay attention to indoor air quality.

  • Dry indoor air can cause dry sinuses and skin that can crack and peel, cause infections, and make it difficult to breathe. Humidifiers can help.
  • Some homes have high humidity, which is great for mold, but not so good for people, especially those with asthma and allergies. Clean areas that get moldy — shower curtains, behind drapery, on window sills — with a mold and mildew remover, such as M-1 House Wash, AllerMold or Vital Oxide.
  • If you want to use an air cleaner, find one that’s a HEPA air purifier. If you have problems with dust and pet dander, there are also HEPA vacuum cleaners.

Exercise is always a good idea. But exercise and cold air can be a problem if you have asthma, so you should always talk to your doctor about outdoor winter exercise.

Light up your life

Dark days can be a little depressing for just about everyone. There is a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, that for some people make winters very challenging. Our bodies’ mood-regulating hormonal system is triggered by differing levels of light. For some, it’s just too much.

“It really helps for you to get natural light,” says Laura Heesacker, LCSW, CareOregon Behavioral Health Innovation Specialist. “Even the light that’s filtered through a persistent cloud cover helps our bodies adjust like they’re designed to do. Go outside if you’re able. Even sitting near windows with the curtains open will help.”

While you’re prepping for winter, make sure to eat and drink a balanced diet. Whole foods and grains, and everything in moderation, helps keep both mind and body balanced.

Keep it in good shape. Exercise it daily

We’re talking about your body and your mind. It’s easy in the winter to stay inside, skip the exercise, and avoid people. Not good.

Try to keep up activities you like, finding a way to continue them even during bad weather. Like to walk? Mall walkers have winter weather all figured out. Mall walking is also good for socializing with others, which brings us to our next point:

Keep connected with friends and family. Feelings of isolation multiply when you’re stuck inside for the winter. Staying connected with family and friends, even just by telephone, can help.

For some, winter brings feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, withdrawn, even thoughts of doing personal harm. If that happens, ask for help immediately.

CareOregon members — and all members of the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) — can receive counseling and other behavioral health treatment at no cost. Just call the number on your health plan ID card and ask us for help finding a provider.

 

Resources:

Mayo Clinic: “Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping

Mental Health America: “5 Things To Do When the Holidays Aren't Exactly Uplifting

Everyday Health: “12 Winter Workout Tips for Exercising Outdoors No Matter the Weather”

AARP: “Mall Walking Around Portland”

HealthStatus: “Five Ways to Have Healthy Air in Winter”

Genomind: “10 Ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder”

CareOregon: “Living Well with Chronic Conditions – Depression”