Children living in North America eagerly anticipate the colder weather, bringing snow and fun to the northern parts of the continent. As we age, the plummeting temperatures may not signal quite as much 'fun.' Activities like driving to work may become more of a challenge in the snow and ice of the winter. During winter's cold and flu season, our bodies may be more susceptible to illness and can sometimes feel the cold more easily. This article will explore tips for older adults to stay well in colder weather.
Attending to your wellness as an older adult needs to occur year-round. Cold weather can be more challenging to stay well in, but it is possible.
Increasing or maintaining an active lifestyle inside or out benefits your health. Be sure to dress for the weather conditions if you are outside and keep warm when inside.
Practice prevention during the cold and flu season by hand sanitizing and getting a flu shot. Stay in if you are sick and contact your healthcare provider.
Stay connected to other people to stay safe and combat loneliness and possibly depression.
Maintaining an active lifestyle during the colder months can be challenging, but it is important to prioritize active living year-round. Maintaining or increasing your activity can strengthen muscles and improve balance and endurance. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate exercise for you.
While it may not always be advisable to exercise outside, when you can and if you can, a brisk walk in the fresh air can be invigorating. Always dress appropriately for the weather by wearing layers and covering your mouth and nose outside in colder temperatures.
Consider using Nordic walking poles to not only increase your energy expenditure but to also help with balance on uneven terrain.
Walking in a group will increase social connections and hold you accountable.
When outdoors is not advisable, or you are physically unable, indoor activity can be a viable option. Your local community center or senior's group may have indoor aerobics, walking groups, yoga, tai chi, and chair exercises, particularly suitable for those facing mobility challenges.
Of course, your local gym is always available.
You have some options for home exercises, including chair exercises, yoga, and gym equipment such as a treadmill or elliptical. You can also do light stretching daily to prevent stiff limbs and joints.
Try tracking your progress with a smartwatch or phone app to stay motivated.
You can discover helpful exercise videos for older adults on YouTube by searching "The National Institute on Aging."
Eat a balanced diet. Fruits, vegetables, and proteins are vital to improving health and your immune system for cold and flu season. Use a crock pot or other one-pot meal to provide warm stews and soups to feel cozy and warm on a cold winter day. Avoid processed or 'fast' foods with elevated sodium levels that can affect kidney function.
Stay hydrated. You need fluids even when you don't feel thirsty. Your body requires adequate hydration for cells and organs to function. Not drinking enough fluids can result in dehydration, leading to electrolyte imbalances, impaired kidney function, headaches, and hypotension (low blood pressure).
Warm beverages in the winter months may help to increase intake. Hot lemon water, herbal tea, hot chocolate, or hot apple cider may also provide warmth and comfort on a cold day.
Dress for the weather. According to an old Scandinavian saying, "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing," and it's so true. The risk of hypothermia and frostbite is higher in winter, so dressing according to the temperature when you are out is essential.
If you are outside, wear layers and a hat, gloves, mittens, boots, and scarf to cover your mouth and nose for extreme cold.
Prevent slips and falls. Wear warm footwear with non-skid soles, and be sure to clear and salt walkways before going out. If you have a cane, ensure there is no wearing to the rubber tip, and you may consider an ice-pick-like attachment for the end of the cane.
We learned a lot about prevention during the pandemic.
Washing or sanitizing hands will help stop the spread of germs and viruses.
If you have a cold or flu, stay home, but if you must go out, consider wearing a mask and practicing social distancing to protect others. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider if you are sick.
Consider getting the annual flu shot covered under most health plans as a preventative measure. Adults over 65 are at a higher risk of severe health complications from the flu.
If you do not have insurance, no-cost or low-cost vaccination options may be available through your pharmacy, healthcare provider, employers, or community organizations.
Take care inside and out
Stay warm. Sometimes, older adults will lower the thermostat to save money in the colder weather, but hypothermia can be dangerous for your health.
Remember to keep your indoor temperature between 68–70F for comfort, whether moving about or watching television. Keep a throw blanket nearby in case of a chill. Dress in layers and wear socks to keep your feet warm.
Indoor heating can be dry, so use lotions to prevent dry skin and irritation.
Prevent Hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia may include cold, pale skin, confusion, slurred speech, shivering (although older adults may shiver less or not at all), drowsiness, and slowed breathing. Hypothermia is a medical emergency. Call 911 if you suspect that you or someone you know has hypothermia.
Combat winter blues
When the colder weather causes us to stay inside more than in the warmer months, loneliness and possibly depression may result. Social isolation can also increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
Combating loneliness may be more difficult in winter, but it is still possible. Become involved in your community or faith group to establish connections with people who share your common interests.
If you can't get out, use your telephone or computer to contact friends and family. Since the pandemic, many online group options have become available and continue to this day.
Depression in older adults is more than just having a 'down day.' It is a serious medical condition and needs the attention of your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you can get outside in the sunlight, do so when you can. Going out will boost your mood and increase your exposure to sunlight and vitamin D.
The last word
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) occurs in some people when there is a depletion of exposure to sunlight. People with SAD may be mentally healthy most of the year but tend to combat fatigue and depression at the same time each year, usually in the winter months. Contact your healthcare provider if you suspect you have symptoms of SAD.
While winter’s colder months may have challenges, you can maintain your physical and mental wellness by making some safe choices. By staying active, warm, and safe and eating a balanced diet, you can confidently embrace the change in season as an older adult.
- Health in Aging. Tip Sheet: Winter Safety For Older Adults.
- National Council on Aging. Staying Active in Cold Weather: A Safety Guide for Older Adults.
- Harvard Health Publishing. An older adult's guide to exercising in cold weather.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information for the 2023-2024 Flu Season.