Every new year starts during a tough time for health. Short daylight hours cause emotional struggles for some. Cold weather limits people’s physical activities. And spikes in respiratory viruses lead to waves of illness and increased hospitalizations. Fortunately, there are productive things we can do to keep ourselves healthier and feeling better.
For those who struggle with less daylight, do your best to get outdoors when the sun is shining or at least sit near a window when possible. If that’s not sufficient, there are full-spectrum lights you can purchase. Make sure the lights are strong to be effective. This hyperlink highlights some models identified by Good Housekeeping as meeting standards to help those with the winter blues. For those who struggle to the point where it makes life difficult, please contact your primary care provider or call the Calvert County Health Department at 410 535-3079 x6 for an appointment with a licensed therapist.
Winter is a challenge for those who prefer to exercise outdoors, but it shouldn’t prevent people from at least participating in some regular physical activity. Consider outdoor exercise on weekends when you have time during daylight hours, and at least two early mornings or evenings of indoor activity during the work week. Although 5 days per week is considered optimal for heart health and to keep weight under better control, 4 days per week is a whole lot better than giving up during the winter.
Home exercise doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of online workout options. You can also find barely used treadmills, exercise bikes, rowers, etc., in classified ads. You may have a family member or coworker with equipment that’s collecting dust. Go ahead and give it a new home where it will be put to good use. Put exercise equipment in a room with a tv or video screen. It’s a great excuse to watch whatever garbage you love while keeping your waistline and your heart in better shape!
Finally, every winter we go through waves of influenza, RSV, and now covid. Since Thanksgiving, we have seen a rise in hospitalizations from respiratory infections across Maryland. RSV is the leading cause of hospitalizations among children under the age of 5 (about 60,000-70,000 hospitalizations per year in the U.S. and over 2 million visits to doctors’ offices). It also causes about 100,000 hospitalizations each year among seniors and close to 10,000 deaths. Influenza and covid are less stable viruses, so the number and severity of illnesses each year is impossible to predict. We have seen years when influenza cases alone overwhelm hospital capacity.
Because of the impact on hospital resources, we all have a stake in controlling the spread of respiratory viruses. Each of us is a car crash, ruptured appendix, or heart attack away from needing urgent hospital care. When ERs and hospital beds are full due to preventable cases of the flu, covid, or RSV, we all face delays in potentially life-saving care. Even if a 25 year-old is unlikely to be hospitalized for the flu, she is likely to pass the infection on to someone at higher risk if she is unvaccinated and not taking precautions. Higher risk includes infants, the elderly. people receiving chemotherapy, and a host of other underlying health conditions.
All those viruses can be prevented, or the effects minimized, through vaccination. Flu and covid vaccines are available to everyone age 6 months and up. Just like with flu vaccines, the formulation for covid vaccines is updated each fall to best match the strains currently circulating. Anyone who was vaccinated prior to September 2023 should get updated covid vaccine for better protection. RSV vaccines are relatively new. Currently, they are approved for pregnant women in their 8th month (the antibodies moms produce after vaccination cross the placenta and protect their newborns during their first months after birth) and for those 60 and older.
All the vaccines have been proven to be very safe. The false claims about links with autism have been conclusively proven to be just that…false claims. RSV, influenza, and covid vaccines are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and every other reputable medical organization in America.
In addition, we have very good evidence that face masks reduce the transmission of all respiratory viruses. By the time someone begins to feel sick, they have already been breathing/coughing out virus particles for at least 24 hours. For those at high risk, they should always have a good quality face covering available when they are around others. For most of the community, they should be mindful that you can’t always look at someone and know how susceptible they may be to pneumonia and other complications of viruses. As a community, we should all be considerate of our neighbors and protect those who are most vulnerable.
The staff at the Calvert County Health Department wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year!