Since moving to Colorado in 2000, I've had the unexpected pleasure to become familiar with many varieties of winter weather. Some years it snows and melts rapidly, some years we see nary a flake until March and April, and some years we must bundle up for the arctic blast and the constant snow storms. Treating my patients for various injuries and ailments throughout the season seems to be consistent with each different type of winter we have. I'd like to pass along my most observable winter maladies and how you can prevent them from happening to you.
Tip #1: Beware of the ice!
This year alone I've worked on a dozen people who fell, or almost fell on the ice. Ice is a sneaky devil; lurking in parking lots, hanging around your front steps, and making friends with your driveway. Exiting the car seems to be where ice likes to surprise you the most. What can you do? Wear waterproof boots with excellent traction that lace up and go over your ankle. Better yet, invest in some Yak Trax to go over your ankle boots. Yaktrax® are like cleats or tire chains for your shoes. A close friend fell in her parking lot on the way to her mailbox severely dislocating her ankle and fracturing both bones in her lower leg. Her orthopedic surgeon (8 screws and a plate) told her that this type of injury is very common and he has already done many similar surgeries. He told her that this type of injury doesn't discriminate- young, old, in shape or not. Be safe, take small slow steps, and wear the proper foot wear to greatly reduce your chances of falling.
In the car: As always, use your 4 wheel drive on your vehicle and get snow tires. This will help a great deal from skidding all over the road when the conditions are icy. A few years ago we drove through Oklahoma after an intense snow storm. The Department of Transportation did a terrible job cleaning up the cars abandoned on the road. We had to change lanes often, since cars abandoned were in our way. New accidents were occurring right in front of us. We watched cars drift into medians because the roads we still icy and the cars did not have snow tires. We drove our little Honda Civic with the snow tires and it really saved our road trip. We stay home during ice storms and inclement weather now, but those tires taught us a valuable lesson: They work!
Tip #2: Ergonomic Shovels
The ergonomic shovels, with the crooked handles, live up to their hype. We live on the corner and shovel a lot, and the shovels help you from having to bend down to lift the snow. My patients tend to hurt themselves most when they are twisting because they are scooping the snow and dumping it to the left or right of them. My suggestion: if you have a back brace because you have a chronic or previous injury, then wear it. Push the snow with the shovel facing the ground, almost edging the light snow (up to an inch or two), then turn your body and push in into the gutter. You don't have to bend or scoop snow if you shovel this way. If the snow is significant, over a few inches, scoop the snow without twisting your body. Push it away from you instead. If you have a hand-held or riding snow plow then use it!
Tip #3: Focus on boosting your immune system
I previously wrote about immune boosting herbs for the cold and flu season (read: What is the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?), but did you know that there are specific foods that you can eat to boost your system? You can fight microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungus) and enhance your overall health. So when everyone else has “that thing that's going around" maybe you won't. Enjoy our article on immune boosting foods below.
Tip#4: Hibernate, if you want to.
Winter is all about resting and being peaceful with yourself before all the activities that spring brings. Your time off does not have to mean that you have to tackle that huge project or stress over time management. What are the activities or hobbies that you like to do? Catching up with friends and family? Reading? Writing? Watching movies? Skiing? Snowboarding? Snowshoeing? Experimenting in the kitchen? Music? Games? Working out? Do these more. Most of these are probably on your New Years' Resolutions List anyway.
Immune Boosting Foods!
- Garlic is an immune-boosting food thanks to its active ingredient, allicin. Try incorporating fresh garlic in your meals weekly or consider taking a garlic supplement to help your body fight off any colds or flus that are going around. Raw garlic is best, but sautéing it in your food is a great option as well.
- Grass-fed beef is one of the best sources of zinc, a great nutrient that helps your immune system work optimally. Zinc helps your white blood cells develop and work properly, among many other valuable functions. Other foods that contain zinc include lamb, turkey, oysters, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils and garbanzo beans.
- Mushrooms help your immune system by increasing the production and activity of your white blood cells. Shiitake, maitake and reishi mushrooms appear to have the biggest immune-boosting power. Try adding these mushrooms in with scrambled eggs or a quiche, mixed in with marinara sauce or sautéed with other veggies in a stir-fry.
- Oranges and other citrus fruits provide a good dose of vitamin C, an antioxidant that can help reduce the duration of your cold. Try adding a splash of fresh lime or lemon juice to your water or snack on oranges, clementines or satsumas. Red bell peppers, broccoli and sweet potatoes are also great sources of vitamin C.
- Salmon contains two wonderful anti-inflammatory compounds, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Both of these are a must for naturally boosting your immune system. Buying wild-caught (as opposed to farm-raised) ensures you are receiving the highest quality and most nutritious salmon available. Pasture eggs, sardines and tuna are other great sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Green tea is a great source of antioxidants known as catechins and polyphenols. Catechins and polyphenols are beneficial because they help clean-up oxidative stress that can weaken your immune system. Additionally, these antioxidants boost the immune defense of your body by increasing the number of regulatory T cells (these play a large role in your immune system and the prevention of autoimmune disease). Added bonus: green tea can also help slow the aging process. Drink multiple cups of organic green tea daily for optimum results.