How to stay healthy all winter long

The key to staying healthy during the winter months is to stick to the basics, according to Dr. Frederick Browne, chief medical officer at Griffin Hospital and infectious disease specialist.

The first steps of staying healthy are eating right, exercising, and minimizing stress levels, Browne said.

“Get a balance [by] eating healthy and trying to avoid high fat and high carb meals … Fresh fruits and vegetables when you can. Exercise [can be as simple as] walking 10,000 steps a day,” Browne said. “Exercise and eating right help stress. Take time to manage oneself is really important.”

Another basic is washing hands properly. Cathi Kellet, Safe Kids Greater Naugatuck Valley coalition coordinator, said children and adults alike need to wash their hands often, like when they come back inside, to eliminate the spreading of germs.

“We need to use soap [with] warm water. Cold water does not kill germs,” Kellet said. “[You] need friction and to really scrub and really get the bubbles going [for at minimum] 20 seconds and wash them off. You turn the water on with dirty hands [so you] need to turn it off with a towel.”

Besides washing hands, it is a good idea to clean all things in the household that can be harboring germs, Kellet said.

“Wash door handles, wash light switches, wash TV remotes, wash the computers, wash all the things that people are putting germs there so we don’t again re-infect ourselves,” Kellet said.

Although eating right and washing hands are activities that a person should be doing all-year round, there are some specific ways to prevent sickness in the winter. One way is getting a flu shot, according to Browne.

A flu shot, from a scientific standpoint, is very safe and has no real side effects, except from minor swelling, Browne said. Flu shots do not contain any active viruses and one cannot get the flu from simply getting a shot.

“The interesting thing is that any amount of the flu shot reduces the flu,” Browne said. “With the shot, the severity is minimized.”

The likelihood of getting the flu, or any other disease, is higher during the winter time. The explanation is that people are closer together in an enclosed space, especially after school starts again and brings together a large group of adults and children, Browne said. The winter season makes it worse because windows and doors are more likely to be closed.

“When holidays come, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, parties bring people closer together … Merry Christmas, here’s your gift and here’s your gift [of sickness],” he said.

In addition to sickness, the risk of frostbite increases during the colder months. If it is less than 32 degrees, one can get frostbite, Browne stated.

“[Cover the] fingers, toes and face. People forget the nose,” Browne said. “If it is windy, the wind factor kicks in. You should have a scarf to cover the face and dress in layers.”

If sick, the right medicine can help either shorten the length of the sickness or ease the symptoms, Browne said. But, the best thing to do is staying inside.

“As an infectious disease specialist, my recommendation is that you stay home. If you have the flu, you can be tested at home, [so you] don’t have to go to the doctor’s [office, and that] keeps you out of an area,” Browne said.

When in doubt, don’t try and go out to school or work, just give the body a day to heal, Kellet said.

“Twenty-four hours makes a world of difference if you can contain it,” she said.