The winter of 2020-21 will not soon be forgotten. Not only was Northeast Pennsylvania coming to grips with the global COVID-19 pandemic, but we also were shoveling, salting and cindering seemingly nonstop due to heavy snow, sleet and ice. It was a winter to remember, or dare I say – forget.
A year later, COVID-19 and its variants continue to make us behave cautiously, while we also prepare for wintry weather and how the global pandemic has affected the rest of our lives. There is little we can do to ward off eventual snow and slick roadways and sidewalks other than to stockpile cinders and rock salt, and make sure our shovels are handy and fresh gasoline is in our snowblowers and generators.
The supply chain disruption that is fueling inflation and shortages in various products, though, will be felt a little more during the winter months. Sharply higher gasoline, electric, heating oil and natural gas bills will hit consumers in the wallet just as we’re preparing to pay off our holiday shopping sprees.
As a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist for The Wright Center for Community Health’s Lifestyle Medicine Program, I have a few tips to keep you warmer, safer and healthier as you turn your thermostats down a few degrees to save on energy bills or pick up a shovel to help family and neighbors dig out of another near-record snowfall.
It is important to remember the following are just tips for overall wellness and prevention of injury during cold weather months and related weather events. My tips include:
• Maintain adequate hydration: Stretch your back and legs in preparation for strenuous exercise before donning your winter gear and reaching for that snow shovel. Just as important, though, is hydration. Research has shown that cold weather alters our thirst mechanism, which results in the decrease of fluid intake and eventually, dehydration. It is important to maintain your hydration level, especially when you are outside carrying firewood, clearing an ice dam in rain gutters or performing any seasonal activity. Consuming regular water remains one of the best ways to keep hydrated.
• Wear layers: Layers of light, warm clothing underneath a windproof winter coat will do wonders for your mindset as you struggle to clear driveways and walkways – or enjoy outside activities with kids. The importance of proper headwear and footwear also cannot be understated. They work in tandem to keep you warm and dry, preventing heat loss, hypothermia and even frostbite from setting in. Remember: A good winter hat keeps a cap on your body’s heat!
• Plan ahead: Be prepared for weather-related emergencies, including power outages. Stockpile bottled water and nonperishable food that cannot be spoiled by lack of refrigeration. You never know how long you may be without power during a winter storm. Do not forget the importance of storing shelf-stable foods. Keep a variety of fruit and nut bars, aseptic packaged beverages, vacuum sealed proteins, dried fruits and pickled vegetables.
• Keep an up-to-date emergency kit: An emergency kit should be a staple in every home and vehicle. It includes extra batteries, a flashlight, weather radio, first-aid kit, cell phone and extra medicine. You should adjust this list based on your individual needs.
• Plan before you travel: For safety’s sake, it is important to be aware of current and forecast weather conditions. Avoid travel when the National Weather Service has issued advisories. If you must travel, inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival.
• Be a good neighbor: Everyone knows a friend, relative or neighbor who needs a special hand during the winter months. Check on those who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards, such as young children, older adults and the chronically ill. Also, if you have pets bring them inside or provide them with adequate warm shelter and unfrozen water to drink.
No one can stop the onset of winter. However, if you follow these suggestions, you will be ready when it arrives.
Walter Wanas, LDN, a licensed dietitian nutritionist, is director of lifestyle modification and preventive medicine for The Wright Center for Community Health’s Lifestyle Medicine Program.