We have the power to seriously influence our aging process and protect ourselves
Even though I spend most of the winter months in the South, I always take protective measures during cooler weather, and admonish all my friends who live in cold, snowy areas, to take precautions against the ravages of winter. While winter can be a wonderland of snowy landscapes, ice sculptures, and ski slopes, dangers lurk beneath it all.
In northern locales, mortality rates peak in winter when heart attacks and other vascular problems become more frequent; the skin shrivels, becomes crinklier; we look and feel older; and less daylight with a cloud-covered sun can be depressing as we yearn for the return of Spring.
So, you need to intensify protective measures.
Snow blindness (photo keratitis) is sunburn damage to the cornea of the eye caused by UV radiation. This painful condition can be associated with temporary vision loss for up to 48 hours. It is thought that UV exposure may contribute to other eye conditions including cataracts, pterygium and age-related macular degeneration. Suggestions on protecting your eyes include:
- Wear wraparound sunglasses or goggles. Aim for a snug fit, so that sunlight can’t shine over the top or sides of your eyewear.
- Yellow or brown tinted lenses are more effective at counteracting the ‘blue’ glare on snow.
- Sunglasses and goggles can be fitted with prescription lenses, if necessary. See your optometrist for more information.
- Brimmed hats can block at least half of UV radiation from reaching the eyes.
Lower humidity in winter, North or South, causes the skin to lose moisture and become abnormally dry. Layers of clothing also affect the skin’s ability to breathe. So, as winter intensifies, the skin can become progressively sicklier, unless you take action.
Showering and bathing tend to dry the skin as well, causing naturally secreted oils to be depleted.
So here’s what to do:
- After showering or bathing, do not completely towel dry. Sponge or pat dry to remove excess water, leaving the skin slightly damp.
- Next, apply moisturizing lotion to the entire body by placing a little in your hands and spreading over one area at a time.
- When the entire body is covered with body lotion, use your towel to pat dry, but do not rub, as that will remove the lotion you have applied. A slight film of lotion can be left on.
- After applying the lotion, you may still feel a little damp. However, that feeling will pass within a few minutes as the air dries you.
Using the simple procedure above plus the daily use of a heavier moisturizer on the face and neck, will keep the skin soft, supple and naturally moisturized. Itching and dryness will be greatly lessened or completely disappear.
Another important part of winter skin care is staying hydrated by drinking lots of fluids. Not only does this help hydrate your skin to prevent dryness and itching, but there are other health benefits too numerous to mention. (You’ve probably heard those dozens of times anyway…). Limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol; those act as diuretics releasing fluid from the body.
Using a moisturizer is important, but so is having the proper sun protection. If you’re out in the snow, especially at high altitudes, UV rays are reflected and, in fact, magnified, so you’ll need as much protection as if you were at the beach on a hot afternoon in the summer.
It’s also a good idea to exfoliate once a week to get rid of flaky skin. Use a type of scrub that’s good for your skin – and always remember to be gentle.
Humidifiers are also great to combat dry air caused by home heating systems.
Ditch the snow shovel. Hire a neighborly teenager to shovel you out, not you or your husband. Every year, emergency rooms fill up with heart attack victims from shoveling snow. Arm exercise, especially when you are upright and lifting, puts a terrific strain on your heart. Studies have shown that just two minutes of heaving snow speeds up the heartbeat to an intolerable rate. There is always a sudden increase in cardiovascular mortality after blizzards. Unless you’re young and in shape, safe snow shoveling means no snow shoveling.
Also, when you’re out in the cold, unless you’re really bundled up and warm, your blood vessels constrict from the cold to retain body heat, resulting in higher blood pressure and a strain on your heart. This danger is more acute in people who already have high blood pressure. Chilly temperatures also affect the blood itself, increasing fibrinogen levels and the concentration of other clotting factors.
But, cold weather might not be the only reason for winter heart problems. Heart attacks peak in winter in places that are not so cold as well. For example, the phenomenon is true in Los Angeles, where what passes for winter resembles spring in other places. Why?
A cluster of brain cells regulates the secretion of certain hormones that can affect the heart. Those cells process signals from the optic nerve. So, theoretically, the short days and long nights of winter threaten the heart because a light-deprived part of the brain throws hormone levels out of whack.
Another explanation for winter’s increase in heart-related troubles is our holiday eating, drinking, and partying. Studies show the winter spike in heart attacks strikes near the holidays.
So, bundle up and keep your house and car toasty. Don’t party too heavily, and, as for those short, darker days, bright lights help with happiness during the winter. Maybe they keep hearts healthier, too. And here’s an idea for your snow shovel: we’ve hung ours on a patio wall, turning it into a piece of art.
Flu (get vaccinated) Yes, you bet I get mine every year!
Winter is the peak season for flu. In colder climates, respiratory viruses spread more easily because people are inside and in closer contact. But flu experts think that there may be something about winter—cooler air, less daylight—that spurs the viruses to replicate after lying dormant in animals during the off-season.
The Flu is blamed for about 36,000 deaths in the United States every year. Now. there’s some evidence that flu is also partly responsible for the winter surge in heart attacks and strokes. A flu infection can increase blood pressure, stir up white blood cell activity, and change C-reactive protein and fibrinogen levels in the blood. All are bad news for your heart.
Carbon Monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless but highly toxic gas produced by the combustion of kerosene, natural gas, oil, wood, and pretty much anything else. We’re in greater danger from CO in winter because that’s when we’re burning for heat in enclosed spaces. About 500 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year. Many more may feel sick during the winter because of low-level exposure they may not be aware of.
The most important preventive measure is keeping your furnace well maintained so that the fumes are properly vented outdoors. You can purchase a carbon monoxide detector).
Those are my suggestions for your proactive antiaging and keeping-safe program for the winter. I wish you all the best of good health and happiness.