“Health is wealth” is a common truism but feeling like a million bucks gets increasingly tougher in the winter. Fewer hours of sunshine, coughing crowds and driveways slick with ice all intensify sluggishness, sickness and sprains. We all know that simple steps like washing hands help keep germs at bay, but for full-on winter health tips, we brought in the experts.
THE EMERGENCY DOCTOR
Chief of Emergency Medicine at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, Greenport
Vice Chairman of Emergency Medicine Department Stony Brook University Medical
Winter can be cozy and welcoming for family and friends—but taking things easy and being mindful of certain pitfalls will allow you to enjoy and get the most out of the season. There are a host of winter emergencies people should be mindful of such as frostbite, hypothermia, household fires and carbon monoxide poisoning from space heaters. Also be careful with heavy snowfall, as this can increase chances for overworking with snow shoveling, traffic accidents, falls on the ice, etc.
Too many people don’t follow the simple advice to get more sleep. Good sleep hygiene is an important prescription for winter wellness and can also combat seasonal affective disorder. Even enhanced indoor lighting with regular lamps and fixtures can help combat this. Here are some do’s and don’ts to optimize sleep:
•Do sleep only long enough to feel rested and then get out of bed
•Do go to bed and get up at the same time every day
•Do keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet and free of reminders of work or other things that cause you stress
•Do solve problems you have before you go to bed
•Do get plenty of physical activity, but avoid heavy exercise right before bed
•Do have coffee, tea and other foods that have caffeine only in the morning
•Don’t have alcohol in the late afternoon, evening or at bedtime
•Don’t smoke, especially in the evening
•Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. If you cannot sleep, get out of bed and try again later.
•Don’t look at phones, computer screens or reading devices (“e-books”) that give off light before bed, as they can make it harder to fall asleep”
Pediatric Medicine at NYU Langone, Riverhead
We had an early flu and a particularly bad strain of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) this season, in addition to ongoing spikes of COVID-19. All three of these present similarly, so we recommend kids be seen by a provider for any of the following: dehydration, trouble breathing/respiratory distress, fever for more than four days or a sick-acting kid. Use your parental gut feeling. You know your kid!
Many children missed their well checks and vaccines during the pandemic, leaving them vulnerable to diseases that we haven’t seen in years, such as the recent polio outbreak in Rockland County. We also screen for developmental and mental health concerns as well as growth at these visits, so remember to keep your well checks in addition to being seen when sick.
Parents need to teach and enforce kids to cover their cough and wash their hands, but an even better approach to health is to lead by example. Adults should stop smoking, eat well, exercise daily, wash hands frequently and stay home when they are sick. Our kids watch us.
Nutrition and exercise are often forgotten protectors when it comes to immunity. Our society leans towards processed high-sugar foods, but we need to encourage five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which can be harder than it sounds. Our diets should be 50% carbohydrate, 20% fats, and 30% proteins with little refined sugar.
Many adults jumped on high protein or various other diet fads, but balance is best, especially for growing kids. Childhood obesity is on the rise post-pandemic. Get out and get active!
THE ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEON
North Fork Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine, Mattituck
Assistant Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery, Sports Medicine
Director of Orthopaedics, Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, Greenport
It’s easy to let ourselves become sedentary during harsh winter weather, but it is important to maintain cardiovascular and muscular health and conditioning so when we do outdoor activities, we can do so safely. Know and abide by rules so if you’re unfamiliar with an activity, do your research, and take lessons, especially skiing and snowboarding. And even though it’s cold outside, we still lose water through sweat and breathing. It’s important to stay hydrated before, during and after activity.
Winter sports involving snow and ice pose a significant risk for falls, and this increases the rates of ankle and wrist injuries as well as concussions. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2018 there were 76,000 injuries from snow skiing, 53,000 injuries from snowboarding and 48,000 injuries from ice skating. Appropriate protective gear is recommended.
Maintaining muscular balance, coordination and proper ankle support can also reduce risk. If we do fall, it’s a natural reaction to put our hands out to break the fall, and this makes our wrists prone to injury. It is important to learn how to fall safely. Falling with clenched fists and keeping your arms tucked against your body with the chin tucked can reduce extremity injuries and concussions.
THE HERBAL HEALER
Private practice, holistic medicine, Mattituck
Stress weakens our immune system and makes us vulnerable to all kinds of conditions. Adaptogenic and neurotrophorestorative herbs are indicated for the stressors we face not just in winter, but in spring, summer and fall as well.
When it comes to herbal treatments, everyone’s context is unique, so each bout with sickness requires its own careful consideration. For myself and my family, I make a weekly broth from medicinal mushrooms, vegetables, seaweeds and tonic herbs to deliver nutrients and support our digestive system, where most of the immune system resides. We drink different teas day to day, depending on how we are feeling and what is left coming up in the garden.
When someone starts to feel sick, I reach for syrup made from the berries of the elder tree with warming, aromatic herbs such as clove and cinnamon, and local honey. As symptoms evolve, each stage of illness calls for different herbs with different actions and affinities.
I grow a variety of herbs at my home and source all herbs for my practice from certified organic growers and makers. I am connected to amazing local herbalists who are eager to share what they grow as well. Nicole at Herrick’s Lane Herbs and Heirlooms is one of my favorites for sourcing certified organic plants that she starts from seed and dried herbs harvested directly from her garden.
My fascination with interconnectedness started in elementary school when I participated in the “Save the Bays” Peconic Estuary program. We learned about the connection between agricultural practices on the North Fork and how they impact the ecology of the local waterways. The experience had a deep impact on my consciousness. These ideas matured at Swarthmore College, where I studied how environmental experience actually changes gene expression and how those changes are passed from generation to generation. This understanding evolved even more so in medical school, where I observed these effects playing out in human health and disease.
THE FAMILY DOCTOR
Family Medicine at NYU Langone, Riverhead
It is really hard to avoid getting sick when others in the household are under the weather, so it’s important to stay on top of your own health and strengthen your immune system. This is best achieved by eating healthy, exercising, taking vitamin C (natural sources of vitamins are best but a multivitamin is recommended if options are limited), and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol. We have noticed that with the decrease in COVID-19 precautions, upper respiratory infections are back on the rise.
Having family to support you—whether physically or emotionally—when trying to achieve your wellness goals is always a plus. But don’t be deterred if you don’t have that additional support. Continue to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I know it may be discouraging for some to exercise in the cold, but there are other ways to stay active. Join a gym, find an online workout video, dance to your Top 10 favorite songs. Just get that heart rate up and keep moving! And don’t forget, your doctor is a part of your team as well. If you need additional motivation, we are here to help.
THE PHYSICAL THERAPIST
Director of Physical Therapy at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, Greenport
Geriatrics is my specialty, as I work with the hospital as well as people living at Peconic Landing. I love working with the older population. I learn so much about life while talking to them. They might need physical therapy for a shoulder injury, but that gives me the opportunity to give them a full fitness and general wellness education.
My biggest soapbox? Find a way to get off the couch! If you’re watching TV, go up and get a glass of water during a commercial or get up and put something away. Weight-bearing activities are critical for the older population as well, and that could be as simple as standing while you’re doing a puzzle. And find ways to get your steps in, whether that is 5,000 steps or 10,000.
You have to find a way to build fitness into your lifestyle. Get your steps while Swiffering your home or listening to an audiobook or podcast while walking around the neighborhood. You don’t even need to buy a wearable fitness tracker, just keep your phone in your pocket and it will track steps for you.
In the winter, people tend to not do their stretching warm up correctly, though. If you stretch before you work out, your muscles are too cold. You should begin your activity, then stretch after 10 minutes.
Since injuries like slips and falls go up in the winter, I wholeheartedly recommend ice cleats. They slip right over your existing shoes and will prevent falls while walking on ice, slush, etc. If everyone reading this buys ice cleats, this will save me a dozen fractures this winter!
THE ACUPUNCTURIST/CHINESE HERBALIST
Healing Points Wellness & Acupuncture, Riverhead
Despite being an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist for over 22 years, I am still in awe of the medicines which have been used for thousands of years to treat colds, flu and viruses. The ancients did know best in my opinion. Since COVID-19 began, patients have been reaching out to learn more about herbal remedies for prevention as well as for long-haul symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, pain, anxiety, headaches and loss of smell and taste. Some Chinese herbal formulas are currently being studied for their antiviral properties in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
Staying healthy all begins with prevention. Approximately 70% of our immune system begins in our gut, so I naturally believe in eating a well-balanced diet that is customized to an individual and any medical conditions that they may have.
In Chinese medicine, we believe that we should live in harmony with the season to stay healthy and prevent illness. As the season changes, so should our diet and lifestyle. Some winter suggestions:
Nourish those kidneys: Foods that nourish and support our kidney energy are dark in color, particularly black or dark blue (i.e. black sesame seeds, black beans, dark leafy vegetables and kidney beans).
Eat warm foods: Nutrition is an imperative part of Chinese medicine, and warming foods can make a big difference in how the body acclimates to the season. Bone broths, squash, whole grains and root vegetables are all winter foods that can support digestion and warmth, and warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and blends of chai warm the yang energy. Try to avoid cooling foods like green teas, melons, cucumber and other “summer” foods.
Include healthy fats and fermented foods: Satisfy winter cravings with healthy fats instead of fried or packaged and processed foods. Research also shows that fermented foods reduce inflammation and improve immunity.
Practice tai chi and qi gong: Both increase circulation, reduce stress and tension and have
positive effects on the immune system and its response to inflammation.
Connect with family and friends: Creating and maintaining strong bonds within the community can change our outlook and provide much-needed reflection during darker days.
Check your vitamin D levels: Vitamin D levels often drop during the winter as we spend less time outdoors. There is a direct link between low vitamin D and seasonal affective disorder which is also common during the winter months.
Schedule an acupuncture appointment: A seasonal tune-up will help strengthen your overall energy. Self-care and rest are crucial to a vital immune system.