Staying Safe & Healthy in Winter

December 20, 2023

Winter is on its way! While many of us enjoy the stunning beauty of a fresh snowfall on the fields or in the mountains, the reality is that winter weather—snow, sleet, ice, brutal temperatures—brings on a series of challenges as we navigate our way through it. 

As we age, reduced body fat, less efficient circulation, and slower metabolism can take a toll in the cold, especially in extreme weather climates. Certain medications and health conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disorders, and liver disease can also affect our ability to regulate body temperature. 

The key to a safe and healthy winter season echoes the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared! Here are some tips and tricks to help you sail through the stormy season. 

Dress For Weather Success

Two of the most common cold-weather problems are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when extremely cold temperatures cause damage to exposed skin that can extend to the bone. Warning signs include white, ashy, or grayish skin with a waxy texture or numbness. 

Hypothermia can be deadly and occurs when you’re in the cold for an extended amount of time, causing a major drop in body temperature. Like frostbite, skin may turn ashy or gray and you may also feel tired, confused, weak, or sleepy, or experience slowed breathing. When preparing to head outdoors, be sure to layer up and wear warm socks, a heavy coat, a hat, gloves, a scarf, and waterproof boots. 

Good D Is the Key

With most of us spending a lot less time outdoors during the cold winter months, getting enough vitamin D from the sun’s rays is just about impossible. Vitamin D deficiency is common and can lead to cognitive decline, depression, and osteoporosis. Eating foods that are fortified with vitamin D may help make up the gap. 

Here are several vitamin-D-rich foods that can be incorporated into our diets: 

Vitamin D 

  • Cheese 
  • Egg yolks 
  • Fortified cereals 
  • Fortified milk 
  • Fish like tuna and salmon

Home Safe Home

It’s important to make sure your home is prepared for the winter as well. Here are a few things to check on before the bad weather hits. 

  • Insulate water lines that run along exterior walls 
  • Clean out gutters and repair roof leaks 
  • Have your heating system professionally serviced to make sure it’s clean, working properly, and ventilated to the outside
  • Inspect and clean fireplaces, chimneys, and wood stoves 
  • Have a safe alternative heating source and alternate fuels available 
  • Check the batteries in all smoke detectors 
  • Check to make sure your home has at least one operable carbon monoxide detector 

The CDC has also prepared these guidelines for best practices for home safety. 

Slow Your Roll 

Did you know drivers 65 and older are involved in more car crashes per mile driven than those in nearly all other age groups? Winter is an especially important time to be vigilant when driving because road conditions and weather are often not optimal. You can check in with AAA for safe winter driving tips, but in general, here are a few things to remember: 

  • “Winterize” your car BEFORE bad weather hits (this includes having your antifreeze, tires, and windshield wipers checked and changed if needed) 
  • Remember your cell phone when you drive in bad weather—make sure it’s charged—and always let someone know where you are going and when you should be back
  • Avoid driving on icy roads and be especially careful driving on overpasses or bridges (consider alternate routes, even if it takes longer—often bigger roads are cleared of snow before the smaller roads)
  • Stock your car with basic emergency supplies including a first aid kit, extra water, blankets, booster cables, a scraper, a shovel, and a flashlight 

There’s lots to love about the beauty of winter, but there’s no doubt challenges mount when the ground is covered in ice and snow and the temperatures drop to dangerous levels. Planning ahead for all that Mother Nature may throw your way this season is the best plan of action for a safe and healthy 2024!