How To Stay Healthy During Chicago’s Deep Freeze

A man shovels snow at his home in Glenview, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

A man shovels snow at his home in Glenview, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Pete McMurray filled in for Steve leading up into the holidays and Pete wanted to check in with Dr. Kevin Most to sort through the holiday weather horrors:

It’s the week before Christmas and winter has set in. The past two weekends have reminded us that snow is a reality. Fortunately the snow yesterday was light and fluffy.  Lets quickly go over why shoveling snow is not good for us. We have all heard,  “lift with your legs, keep the item close to your body, walking a straight line. So are we surprised that we have a sore back after shoveling?  We bend over, we lift with our low back muscles, we hold the weight away from our body and we twist and throw the weight.  Hate to say it but we deserve our low back pain after shoveling!!


We all need to remember that shoveling snow can be dangerous. Over 55, don’t shovel snow, find a neighborhood kid who needs the $20, it may save your life. Shoveling snow puts a large stress on your heart, so support your local economy and hire a kid to do it.  If you are a kid, think about your neighbors and go over and shovel their driveway before you do yours, you will be rewarded in the future.


Last week we reminded everyone  the importance of wearing mittens during the cold weather as it keeps your hands much warmer, many including Steve don’t believe it.  Well lets consider a few other cold weather myths.  How many of us were told by our Mothers don’t go out with wet hair or without a hat under the threat that we would catch a cold. For one you would think Mothers would have come up with a better threat. The threat of a cold really was not much of a threat to most boys, in fact many of us probably saw it as a couple days off school.
Well lets clear things up. Colds are caused by viruses not by being cold. You can go out with wet hair and unless you are exposed to a virus you will not get a cold. This myth carried weight as it was used during cold and flu season, the chance of getting a cold this season is quite high. If you get thru February without a cold you are very lucky. Most individuals will get at least one cold this season. Why does this occur? Well it has nothing to do with cold wet hair. Viruses actually like cold weather, many of them have a protective coat that allows them to survive cold weather. The other reason is that we spend more time inside and individuals who have viruses can easily spread them .
A virus can live on a surface for many hours,   a cough or sneeze can spread a virus a good distance. During cold and flu season we are exposed to many viruses. So what can we do?  Well one of the easiest things is to wash your hands often. We usually will touch a surface and then touch our face essentially infecting ourselves.
Many of you may take Vitamin C, Airborne or Vitamin packs claiming to prevent illness, do they work? Do they prevent illness or colds?  Well I am sorry to say that there is not a lot of science behind this. Linus Pauling  thought that a large dose of Vitamin C would help prevent illness, at that time we didn’t know that any Vitamin C that was beyond what the body needed would be cleared by our kidneys.  So do any of the vitamin packs add value? As we have discussed in the past vitamins are great for individuals who don’t or can’t eat a proper diet. In the US with the crazy days we all have, a good multivitamin is a great inexpensive way to make sure too make sure we get the balance of vitamins we need.
Winter has an unusual impact on some of our vitamins. I think we all know that we produce enough Vit D in the spring, summer and fall because we spend time outside. During the winter not only does the cold keep us inside away from the sunlight but the time of the sunlight is very limited. Many at this time of the year go to work in the dark and finish in the dark so our production of Vitamin D in our bodies is down, so a Vit D supplement in the winter is a good idea. The reason we do ok without all of us taking Vitamin D is that it is one of the vitamins that we actually store in our body. Vitamin D is stored in fat in our body, so during the winter we will draw from the stored Vit D. However taking a Vit D supplement during the winter is a good idea.
Those of you who don’t want to take vitamins, can get some Vitamin D from their diet. Foods rich in Vit D include salmon, eggs, cheese.
As we approach the holidays, we often will participate in holiday parties, that usually means a drink or two as well. Many think that alcohol makes them sleep better but in reality that window of improved sleep is actually limited by the volume of alcohol you take in. Some studies show  a single drink  30 min before sleeping will actually help relax an individual and aid in sleeping. This improvement is very limited and if 2-3 drinks or more are taken in we now that it actually disrupts your sleep patterns.  Other studies show that Alcohol actually impacts your sleep negatively thru the entire night if you drink excessively.  We know that alcohol will disrupt sleep thru the night so although you may fall asleep quickly you will not have a restful night sleep.
Some individuals will find that red wine actually helps them fall asleep. One reason this may be is that red wine contains melatonin. This is found in the grape skin and thus is found in wine. This will often allow you to fall asleep, but studies have shown this is only for a few hours at which time the alcohol is converted to glucose. Glucose gives the body energy at the time it is least needed, so many people actually end up with insomnia due to the production of glucose and the sense of energy when we don’t need it.
Sleep during the winter varies from individual to individual, some actually sleep much more in the winter as their body is in tune to go to sleep shortly after the sun goes down. Others find the early darkness actually hinders their sleeping patterns. What the early and long darkness periods triggers in many is a feeling of depression or just feeling down. It is called Seasonal Affective Disorder and it is caused by the lack of exposure to daylight. It is treated with artificial light sources.