The “winter blues” are a difficult time for many of us. Less sunshine and longer hours of darkness can make us feel tired, lethargic and lacking in our normal enthusiasm for life. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a more serious medical condition resulting from the dark days of winter, can even become debilitating and requires medical treatment.
Senior adults can be particularly vulnerable to the winter doldrums since they may be less mobile, less active and less capable of doing things on their own. The drop in temperature is often accompanied by a general drop in mood and seniors can become more susceptible to the unhealthy byproducts of the winter season such as over eating, a more sedentary lifestyle and a lack of fresh air and exercise. Fortunately, there are some things that can be done to counteract the winter blahs and improve one’s outlook, physical health and emotional wellbeing. Experts in the medical profession agree that the following tips can be very useful to seniors in beating “old man winter:”
Let the sun shine! Daily doses of sunshine are essential for counteracting winter’s long hours of darkness. Frequents bursts of sunlight help us feel more energized, optimistic and engaged. Take some time each day to get outside when the sun is shining and take advantage of the sun’s energy boosting rays.
Try a “light box:” Another option for overcoming the enervating effects of the long days of darkness is bright light therapy. Special instruments called “light boxes” are used to assist those with sunlight depravation and those suffering from Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD). The light box mimics the light from the sun and when used for 20 or 30 minutes a day, has been shown to improve the moods of those suffering from winter blues.
Get enough exercise: Get moving! Research has shown that exercise can be a miracle worker when it comes to improving mood, overall health, mental sharpness, susceptibility to illness. Walking can be an excellent form of exercise for seniors and when the weather is too inclement to venture outside, many shopping malls have scheduled walking times in the early morning hours. Mall walking is great way to get your daily dose of exercise because the surface is flat and the environment is climate controlled and comfortable. Walking with a friend or family member is a great way to work your muscles while socializing.
Stay connected and maintain your social calendar: Maintaining an active social calendar and networking with your friends is another important way to enjoy yourself and help the winter season pass by. Continue to do the things you enjoy or try something different as a change of pace to spice up your normal routine. Social engagement is a recognized health booster for all seasons, but it can be especially beneficial in the dark days of winter when our spirits can be low and our energy begins to ebb.
Maintain a healthy diet: The darkness, colder winter temperatures and the sense of “hibernation” can cause us to overeat and to crave sweets and carbohydrates – a clear prescription for unhealthy weight gain. Try to stay with healthy foods and balance your food intake with sufficient physical activity and exercise. Soups with meat for protein and an assortment of vegetables can be a warm, satisfying alternative to high calorie foods.
Practice “winter hygiene:" With the cold weather months comes the cold and flu season. Coming down with an illness can make winter seem even longer and more unpleasant. To increase your chances of staying healthy, practice what healthcare workers do. Because they are constantly exposed to germs in their work environment, they wash their hands thoroughly and frequently throughout the day. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for roughly 20-25 seconds each time to remove the germs. Also, use a sanitizer to wipe down the “high touch” areas of your home such as doorknobs, phones and other commonly used surfaces to keep them germ free.
Think positive! Remember, winter doesn’t last forever. Try to envision the coming days of spring and the sunshine, flowers and songbirds that come with it. In the meantime, keep things in perspective and enjoy a good book and a warm beverage while you watch the snow fall outside. This too will pass and warm sun-filled days will follow!
The winter months can be difficult at any age. To get through, all it takes is a little knowledge, patience and the right approach. And the next thing you know, you’ll find “Spring is right around the corner!” For more information on this and other topics of interest to seniors, contact the Butler County Department on Aging at 316-775-0500.