Woman with a headache

Triggers For Cool Weather Pain

You may have heard the expression, “kill the messenger,” and indeed that may have been what you wanted to do when, on Groundhog’s Day, this year, the prognosticating rodent came out of his whole and saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. As American columnist and author, Bill Vaughn once said, “The groundhog is like most other prophets, it delivers its prediction and then disappears.”

Although many of us have our own reasons to wish for the early end of winter weather, it is especially understandable for those of us who suffer from cold weather pain. However, if you are included in this number, there may be some precautions you can take before you go on a bloodthirsty hunt for old Punxsutawney Phil. Here are some common triggers of cool weather discomfort you may be able to avoid.

Winter Air
The two main sources for skin hydration are healthy fats and moisture from the air. However, when the air gets dry, there is less moisture for the lips and skin to absorb, which can lead to chapping and flaking. Lip licking can exacerbate the problem and lead to cold sores and dehydrated skin can crack and even bleed, leading to possible infection.

Barbara Doty, MD and family physician says, “Develop the habit of caring for your skin on a daily basis. Have easy access to lip balm, use a good moisturizer, and avoid excessive use of soap.”

Woman shovelling snow

Shoveling Snow
According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, about 11,500 people are treated for snow shoveling injuries yearly, and the wetter the snow, the heavier it is. Sandra Fryhofer, MD explains, “Shoveling puts strain on your heart. If you have heart problem get someone else to do it.”

However, even if your heart is in good condition, you need to take precautions. Fryhofer suggests waterproof shoes and an ergonomically designed shovel, which is lightweight and has a curved shaft to help keep your back straight when you use it, Dr. Doty advises that you, “Pick up smaller portions of snow for less weight per shovel.” It is also best to use your legs rather than your back to lift and to shovel in both directions, rather than in one, to avoid strain.

Dark Days
Headaches are signs of seasonal affective disorders. According to Laura Knobel, MD, changes in barometric pressure can trigger migraines and less sunlight can cause a vitamin D deficiency, which has been linked to an increase of headaches in the winter and fall.

“If headaches are due to lack of sun,” says Dr. Knobel, “natural spectrum lights can make a big difference for some people.” She also suggests using garden grow lights to grow indoor plants as a relief from winter blues, adding, “Seeing the seedlings grow can give you hope that spring is on its way.”

Woman coughing

Dehydration
Dehydration is a problem in winter as well as summer. Not drinking enough water can make you achy because it prevents the body from processing waste products efficiently.

Try to maintain a healthy water intake by sticking to plain water rather than warm caffeinated drinks, like black and green tea or water. Dr, Doty warns against caffeinated beverages, “which are diuretics,” and leave bodies at a hydration deficit.

Colds
Of course one of the biggest causes of winter pain is the common cold, or flu, and the dry air can make it worse. Doty says, “In winter, nasal passages get plugged more easily, and with a lot more mucus, it can get irritated down in the back of your throat, which means you can’t clear it as well.” To avoid sickness, get your annual flu shot if you haven’t already and try natural remedies and get plenty of rest to soothe symptoms.

Are you thinking of throwing rocks at the groundhog? If so, we want to hear from you. What are your most common cold weather pain triggers and how do you avoid them? Let us know!

Woman cleansing skin.

Seasonal Skincare

To get the healthiest, most radiant skin, you’ll have to do some year-round maintenance work. One thing that remains constant during every season of the year is that you want to be sure you are protecting your skin against damaging UV rays. However, some other areas of your skincare routine may require tweaks here and there as the seasons, and your skincare needs, change. Discover what the main seasonal concerns are and how you can best address these to keep your skin healthy and happy.

Woman applying a facial mask

Winter
Dry, flaky, irritated and itchy skin are all common complaints during the winter months. In addition to protecting your skin from the sun, you also need to protect your skin from other environmental elements. Harsh winds, freezing temperatures and incredibly dry air can all wreak havoc on your skin in winter and one way to fight back is to keep your skin covered when possible. Items like gloves and scarves can help to easily protect your skin.

You may need to switch out some of your fall products for more heavy duty formulations in the winter. Consider the following ideas when remedying winter skin:

  • Switch from a gel cleanser to a creamy or oil-based cleanser
  • Swap your toner for a more moisturizing one to soothe dry skin after cleansing
  • Look for moisturizers containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and ceramides for maximum hydration
  • Use gentle exfoliants on your face and lips to keep dry, flaky skin at bay

Woman touching her skin

Spring
Say goodbye to the dry, flaky skin of winter by starting spring with some much-needed exfoliation. Using chemical exfoliants such as alpha and beta-hydroxy acids is a great way to gently remove dead skin cells and other debris. A homemade scrub of olive oil and sugar is perfect to get your arms and legs glowing again and to keep them looking great, consider investing in a dry brush. You may also want to:

  • Change from heavy moisturizer to a lighter, oil-free moisturizer
  • Keep lips well protected with balms and treatments that contain SPF
  • Store your moisturizing toner for a lightweight toner or essence to treat skin and combat oil
  • Remember that you still need to be protecting your skin with an SPF every day during spring.

Woman in a beach

Summer
Perhaps the biggest complaint regarding summer skincare is the presence of excessive oil. Part of why this happens is that the warm temperature can liquefy the sebum (oil) in your pores, which causes the oil to leak out onto the surface of your skin resulting in unwanted shine. When you mix sweat with the oil, your skin looks not only greasy, but it feels uncomfortable as well. Combat excess oil in the summer by:

  • Use a gel or foaming cleanser to thoroughly remove dirt, oil and sweat from your face
  • Decrease the intensity of your moisturizer to a lightweight lotion or a serum
  • Use beta-hydroxy acid to deep clean pores and help stop excess oil
  • Look for a sunscreen that contains mattifying properties

Summer fashion exposes far more skin, so be sure that you are applying sunscreen to any area of your body that is exposed. A general guideline is to use the equivalent of a shot glass (1 oz) to cover your entire body. If you are using a chemical sunscreen, apply 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure so your skin has a chance to fully absorb the product. Mineral sunscreens can be applied immediately before stepping into the sun. One application of sunscreen a day isn’t enough if you’re going to be outdoors; reapply sunscreen every two hours or after every time you immerse yourself in water. Protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses are also a good idea to protect yourself.

Woman dressed for fall

Fall
Drier skin isn’t the only fall skin concern that you need to be worried about. Your skin may go into a bit of shock after summer and this manifests as visible sunspots and signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. With all of the excess oil that your glands produced during summer, you may have enlarged pores heading into the fall. To keep your skin looking healthy in the fall you should:

  • Store your lightweight moisturizers and serums and begin to use a more heavy duty product
  • Use a gentle cleanser, toner and exfoliant because skin is sensitive from UV damage
  • Begin using retinol to erase signs of sun damage from the summer
  • It should go without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that you need to continue using an SPF daily to protect from further sun damage.

If you are using quality skin care products with great ingredients and formulations, there is a good chance that you won’t need to change your entire collection of products with each season. A few key items here and there can help you keep your skin healthy during every season of the year. Sunscreen is always in season, so don’t forget to stock up on it when you create your seasonal skincare routine.

Woman down with the cold.

Why You Actually Get Sick in Cold Weather

Cold and flu season has officially arrived and it can be difficult to keep yourself from succumbing to one or the other, or both if you’re unlucky. It isn’t just a nasty cold or flu virus that can have you feeling less than great during the winter months, you may also experience a worsening of other health conditions such as arthritis or diabetes. Research from Cambridge University helps to bring some clarity when it comes to why you actually get sick in cold weather.

What Causes Cold Weather Illness
It’s a fact that illness rates go up during cold weather and there has been little indication as to what is actually causing this. A study conducted by John Todd, professor of Medical Genetics at Cambridge University, concludes that your genes are responsible for the increase in illness and discomfort you experience during the winter. Why does this happen? The theory is that your genes actually change their behavior in response to seasonal changes. This amazing bit of science was discovered by chance by one of Professor Todd’s Ph.D. students. The student noted that during winter, immunity genes were more active in white blood cells than they were at other times of the year. White blood cells are the cells in your body that are responsible for fighting off infection and illness.

Scientific Study Provides Support
Once the discovery had been made, Professor Todd launched a research study that included over 16,000 worldwide. The research team, lead by Todd, carefully analyzed blood and tissue samples from participants coming from a large variety of climates and environments. Your body contains around 24,000 genes and the research conducted by Todd and his team analyzed 22,000 human genes, making it a comprehensive study.

What they found was that nearly one-quarter of genes in the human body show signs of altered behavior during seasonal change. The weather in Britain changes significantly with the seasons, much like it does here. Todd found that during the winter months, immune system genes ramped up their activity during the winter months. However, samples from Iceland, where it is cold the majority of the time and there are few seasonal changes, showed that genes were more active prior to the rainy season in Iceland.

Why do Genes Change Behavior and Why Does More Immune Activity Make you Sick?
While the study indicated clearly that there are many genes that alter their behavior according to season changes, the reason why is still unclear. The researchers who conducted the study believe that genes receive natural clues from their environment, such as temperature or sunlight, and then respond accordingly.

If your immunity genes in white blood cells are more active during cold, winter months, then why do you still get sick? Shouldn’t more activity equal more protection? Not entirely. Professor Todd explains that the spike in activity can cause your cells to malfunction and attack your body instead of just foreign invaders. Your immunity genes control white blood cells, which triggers inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a major component of serious diseases such as heart disease, arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

What Does All of This Mean?
The research all boils down to one fact: if you know more about what’s wrong, you can treat the condition more effectively. Drugs that target inflammation may be more effective when used during the winter months to treat serious conditions like arthritis. Additionally, Professor Todd suggests that perhaps instead of getting vaccinated immediately when fall starts, it may be more beneficial to be vaccinated later in the winter when your body is already primed for immune action.

Staying healthy during winter weather can be a challenge and some places, like at work or school, you can’t fully control your exposure to bacteria and viruses. Understanding what happens to cause illness in cold weather is a promising step in discovering how to more effectively prevent and fight these illnesses as well. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly and often and to stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading germs. Even though your genes alter their behavior, prevention of disease by hand washing and vaccination is still important because these practices can significantly lessen the severity of your illness.

Couple jogging during winter.

How to Boost Your Winter Workout

The benefits of exercising outdoors in the fresh include things like more energy, less tension and lowered rates of depression. However, when it’s freezing outside you may be tempted to just stay indoors and cuddle up under your blanket. Fitness expert Sean Burch says that winter might actually be a better time for outdoor workouts than summer. “The heat and humidity in the summer can drag you down and tire you faster, but cold weather is invigorating. It stimulates your senses, tunes you into your surroundings – it makes you feel alive.” We’ve got three ways to boost your winter workout so it is most effective and so that it is also safe for you to complete outdoors.

Play it Safe
In warmer months with less dangerous weather hazards, choosing challenging terrain for your outdoor exercise is often beneficial to your health, but when the temperatures dip it’s best to play it safe. For outdoor winter workouts, you want to stay closer to home than you normally might so that if you do slip and fall or overexert and exhaust yourself, you’re close to the warmth and protection of the indoors. If you exercise early in the morning or in the evening after the sun has gone down, you’ll want to look for areas near your home that are well-lit and plowed. Lighting is important so that you can spot potentially icy areas and steer clear of them to avoid injury. Additionally, it’s not just important to you that you have light, you need to be positive that you are visible to motorists who may have difficulty stopping quickly. Wear reflective or colorful clothing and use bike or flashlights to remain as visible as possible.

Warm Up and Cool Down
Before you head out the door, experts advise that you spend some time indoors preparing your muscles for your cold weather workout. Jog in place for five minutes before you plan to go outside to get your muscles revved up. The freezing temperatures can be an incredible shock to your muscles, so once you do step out the door, experts suggest taking short 30 second breaks during the first few minutes of your workout. This allows them to acclimate to the climate and helps prevent damage or discomfort.

Winter workouts also require a cool down period. Three to four minutes before you plan on stopping your workout, slow your pace down. Do your stretching indoors and remove any extra layers of clothing after you’re done. Walk around for another four to five minutes before showering for the most effective cool down.

Know Your Limits and Have Some Flexibility
In the summer, you may be able to run six or seven miles without a problem. During the winter, although you may be able to do the same amount of miles, it takes a much larger toll on your body. When the temperatures are freezing, your body is working overtime to keep you warm and overexerting yourself subjects your body to unnecessary stress. Experts recommend starting the winter slowly and then building up to a longer workout. For example, instead of running six miles, start with three and gradually add a bit more mileage each day.

If you enjoy working out as part of your routine and you keep to a certain schedule, winter can be a very frustrating time for your outdoor exercise. By taking necessary precautions, you can safely work out first thing in the morning, but experts suggest being a bit more flexible with your routine. If possible, stick to late afternoon hours for outdoor exercise when the temperature is at its peak and the roads have been attended to. It’s noble to believe there is no such thing as weather that is too bad to stop you from working out, but trainers and athletic experts remind you to put your safety first. Ice, snow, sleet, hail, unplowed roads or extreme darkness are all serious challenges and it’s best to know when to say no to your outdoor routine.

According to Dr. Kevin Plancher of Plancher Orthopaedics and Sports Medicines, NYC, exercise can help in increasing endorphin (feel good hormones) levels, but since the body has to work harder due to the cold, the endorphin production is further boosted, leading to an even more happier state of mind. Exposure to natural light, of which there is a shortage in the winter, is also proven to help alleviate depression. Your winter workout provides so many benefits, and using these three tips, you can be sure that you’re working out effectively and safely.