Dear Patients:

With winter coming, it’s time for a bit of preparation. I’d have to say that the four biggest risks my patients seem to face during winter in Michigan are:

  1. Slipping and falling on ice
  2. Gaining weight
  3. Becoming less conditioned/becoming more deconditioned
  4. Seasonal depressed mood

Over the years, I’ve learned from my patients that, daunting as these four threats may seem, they are fairly easy to counter with some planning and a willingness to stick to a program. As is the case with so much else in life, these threats are much more easily managed by prevention than by correction. So, without further ado, here’s my advice.

USE GRIPPERS ON SHOES AND BOOTS. Yaktrax is one brand of pull-on devices that are convenient and inexpensive. I’d buy a few pairs so that you can have outdoor shoes as well as boots outfitted with them or something like them at all times. There are more aggressive options, but these can damage door sills, wood floors, and car interiors. I’ve never had a problem with Yaktrax. I’ve gotten mine both on-line and at Meijer. I’ve taken some impressive wipeouts on ice over the years, but never while wearing grippers.

ACTIVELY MANAGE YOUR HOLIDAY EATING. If you have a sweet tooth (like I have), Halloween through Easter can mean trouble, and that by the way is over five months! I’ve learned some little tricks over the years that help me to not overindulge on the high calorie candies and pies and cakes that I find so tempting. For instance, when I receive treats as Christmas gifts from patients, friends, or family, I immediately share them out. I know full well that left to my own devices, I’ll eat them all myself, so I instead choose to spread “the burden” across my staff, my partners, my wife and my boys, etc. Perhaps you don’t have a sweet tooth, but you tend to take in too many calories in alcohol over the holidays. Or perhaps you simply take in too many calories in fats or carbohydrates. I think the same principle still applies.

CONTINUE TO EXERCISE AT LEAST THREE DAYS PER WEEK. When it comes to indoor exercise, I have found that a recumbent exercise bike works best for the majority of my patients. You don’t need anything expensive; 150-200$ will get what you need. I like the recumbent bikes because they are foolproof. You can’t fall out of them. You can’t hurt your knees or your back. You can start by riding just a few minutes at low tension, and then build up, bit by bit, to impressive numbers. We know that statistically, 35-40 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise three or four days per week is cardio-protective, so working up to at least this amount or exercise just makes sense.

USE A SUNLIGHT REPLACEMENT LAMP. In Michigan, we are blessed with lots of water and lots of forestland, but cursed with long, dark, cloudy winters. Only one or two states have less winter sunshine than we have. Frankly, I don’t think it is the cold as much as it is the cloudiness that makes winter here tough. If you’ve ever been out west in the winter, you’ll know what I mean. Five below zero Fahrenheit in Colorado just doesn’t seem so cold and so depressing because the sun is usually brilliant. The solution, or part of it, is to buy a sunlight replacement lamp and use it 20 minutes or more every day during Michigan winter. Exposure to natural sunlight quite simply supports mental health. Different brands of lamps are available, but the key is to buy a unit with a high quality bulb. Northern Lights is one company that has been around for years and always seems highly rated. Many folks will set the lamp up next to their computers so that they are getting exposure as they work, answer emails, surf the internet, etc.

If you have winter survival tips of your own to share, I’d love to hear them.

Thomas M Basch, MD