January 2, 2017

Winter is officially here and the temperatures are all over the map which means that our kids will want to leave the house underclothed. Mothers will discuss the risk of going out in shorts in 30 - 40 degree temperatures to the smirking laughter of their teenage sons and daughters as they walk out the door. "You know nothing", you can hear them say.

Does it really matter that they are fully clothed? Is there a benefit to intermittent cold stress? Is overprotection ever a good thing? Are we at more risk for infection in the winter? I have often pondered these questions as I learn more about human physiology. It is clear to me from the research that some stress is very good for the body. The key is intermittent exposures and not chronic types.

There are many experts that believe that intermittent cold stress induces the function of cold shock proteins and resilience in humans. I have taken to jumping in the lake randomly or sitting in ice baths for 5 minutes now to push my system to adapt to cold. My son has joined me a few times only to surface with a crazed look that culminates in the pride of "I did it" after thawing out.

Here are my top 10 things to do in the winter time and put in a winter kit.

1) Always come prepared for outdoor events. It is not imperative that a child have all of the necessary clothing on, but he or she does need to have them nearby in case he or she gets cold for a prolonged time. Backpacks should have extra core covering gear like sweatshirts, base layers, gloves and hats.

2) Eat robust foods that include fat, protein and carbohydrate for energy as the day evolves. For example, eggs, granola and fruit with water. Having proper energy on board is critical for energy production.

3) Layer your clothing - wearing multiple thin layers can help trap in your heat and keep your core warmer. This has been well demonstrated by athletes of all types in cold weather sports. The days of the bulky down jacket are gone.

4) Use a sweat wicking base shirt if you will be exercising to a sweat. This will prevent sweat moisture from cooling your core temperature. Another option is to have a change of clothing to remove the wet gear at the end of a workout.

5) Winter weather is often arid meaning dehydration is more likely (especially at higher altitudes). Drink lots of water throughout the day.

6) Wear SPF 30 sunscreen if you will be in the sun for a while. You are at moderate risk to burn your face in the winter. The sun is actually closer to us during the colder days.

7) Consider taking vitamin D in age appropriate doses to prevent seasonal depressive symptoms and reduce infections especially influenza that are associated with insufficient D levels.

8) Take a daily probiotic, zinc and vitamin C to help reduce infections by boosting immune and barrier functions.

9) Use lip balms that will protect your lips from chapping.

10) Get outside and exercise in the cold. It is invigorating and stimulating to the genome.

Stay warm and healthy but play outside this winter,

Dr. M