The winter season is no surprise if you live in an area that regularly sees plunging temperatures and feet of snow. However, even those people used to living in cold areas are only sometimes ready for its arrival. Cold temperatures and winter storms pose a significant risk to your health, and staying safe means preparing for whatever the winter weather throws your way.
Let’s take a look at how winter weather can affect health conditions, traffic, and general safety.
Health Conditions Exacerbated by Winter
While cold weather is often associated with the cold and flu season, other common health conditions can worsen in winter. Many of the things that we associate with winter as a season – including cold temperatures, shorter and darker days, and snowy conditions – can exacerbate skin, mood, or auto-immune disorders. In some cases, winter can make health emergencies like cardiac events or hypothermia more likely to occur. Let’s look at some different examples below.
Cold temperatures can affect your skin, causing flare-ups in chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Breakouts of these autoimmune disorders often occur when there are changes in humidity or temperature.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), known as “winter depression,” is a condition triggered by the change in seasons. It often begins in the fall and worsens in winter. A lack of daylight or Vitamin D deficiency and brain chemical imbalances are some causes of this condition. SAD impacts daily life, especially how you think and feel, as it increases low mood and lack of interest in life. Major winter storms often prevent people from leaving their homes, which can increase feelings of anxiety, sadness, and isolation in people with SAD.
Joint Pain and Autoimmune Disorders
Winter weather sometimes triggers aching joints, as people with arthritis tend to feel more pain and discomfort when temperatures become colder. Joint inflammation leads to decreased motivation to stay active due to reduced mobility. Cold temperatures and the drop in barometric pressure cause joint pressure to increase, resulting in swelling and stiffness. Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, can flare up due to exposure to cold temperatures.
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops dangerously low (below 95 degrees F), and your body loses heat faster than it can produce. Your heart, internal organs, and nervous system no longer work normally, which makes hypothermia a medical emergency. Getting wet or sweating increases your chances of developing hypothermia, making it more common in winter or snowy conditions. This is why dressing for warmth in cold weather is essential for your health.
According to the CDC, cold weather puts extra strain on the heart. Cardiac events increase in older adults during winter due to added stressors, less sleep, unhealthy diets, and abrupt exercise, such as snow blowing or shoveling. Cold temperatures cause the most significant risk for heart attacks because low temperatures stress the heart, causing it to pump more vigorously. The blood vessels constrict to conserve body heat, which increases blood pressure.
This extra strain can become too much for some people during winter, especially those who are elderly, who have a history of smoking, who don’t exercise regularly, or who have other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
Extreme Winter Weather and Traffic Safety
Driving in severe winter weather is both dangerous and scary. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 500,000 crashes and more than 2,000 deaths occur each year due to storms, sloppy road conditions, and stormy weather every year.
Heavy storms, blizzards, high winds, black ice, and freezing temperatures are the perfect recipe for low driver visibility and icy roads. The resulting road and highway closures can leave some cars and trucks stranded on highways for hours in the bitter cold. Winter weather can also damage your car unless you keep the vehicle in winter storage. Remember these essential winter driving safety tips for whatever roads you drive this winter.
Driving in Snow
Snow can consist of small flakes restricting visibility or large flakes adding up fast, leading to accidents on slippery and slick road surfaces. Wet snow can be just as dangerous even without ice on the roads. You may have different control while stopping or turning your car than in average weather conditions.
Slow your car’s speed so you have more time to react to weather-related circumstances. Avoid stopping on inclined roadways, ramps, or hills because snow can cause tires to spin and lose traction.
Driving on Ice
Know what your car is capable of handling in winter weather. If you drive over a patch of ice, don’t panic brake or overcorrect with the steering wheel. Take your foot off the gas pedal and steer the car in the direction you wish to go. Calmly wait for the car to slow and the wheels to catch, allowing you to regain control.
Severe winter weather can impact driving conditions and result in poor traction, vehicle or road damage, or visibility issues, especially if you are traveling during a snowstorm. Always pay attention to other drivers in severe winter weather. Keep plenty of space between you and the car ahead of you in case you are unable to bring your own car to a complete and controlled stop. Being extra cautious when driving in the winter can keep you from causing, or being in an accident, which could result in car damage costs, higher insurance rates, and accident injury settlements.
Maintaining Well-Being and Safety in Winter
With the impact that winter and the lack of daylight have on mental health, there are some steps you can take to stay physically active and emotionally healthy, indoors or outdoors. Continually monitor the weather ahead to plan which days you can exercise outside or what days you need to stay inside.
Wear layers of comfortable clothing for outdoor activities. You can remove layers as you become warmer, preventing sweating and overheating. Use free workout routines online for indoor exercises to keep you flexible, balanced, and strong, or join group exercise classes at the local gym. You can enhance your winter lifestyle with a new hobby or take lessons in your favorite winter sport.
Be Prepared for a Safe, Healthy Winter Season
The best way to stay safe and well during a winter snowstorm is to remain inside and avoid it altogether. If you can avoid traveling during extreme winter weather, do so; if you must venture out, whether driving or walking, prepare your body and vehicle for the winter weather.
Have your car’s maintenance updated before winter and inspected for any hidden issues needing repair. Always keep the gas tank full, have a car emergency kit, and drive slowly in inclement weather. Plan so you can enjoy a safe winter season full of good health and good cheer.
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