It’s a rare and special thing to experience the change of seasons, and those of us who have lived many years and many seasons over have great wisdom to apply to these shifts. Even though our culture and economy want to keep pushing forward regardless of seasonal patterns, our bodies can’t help but feel those natural transitions. Especially in winter, our bodies want to slow down, regenerate, and store up energy for a fresh start come spring.
There are ways to find balance while still taking it easy in winter—ways to be aware of our bodies’ seasonal tendencies and ensure that we don’t slide into unhealthy conditions and habits. In the Bay Area, we may not be dealing with the extreme cold, snow, and dryness of other places, but we face our own unique winter challenges, and it’s a great idea to be prepared.
Cold Weather Safety Challenges in the San Francisco Bay Area
In the San Francisco Bay Area winter, we should all be on alert for:
- Rain that can make the roads and sidewalks slippery, limit the amount of time we can spend outside, and potentially lead to flash floods, mudslides, and related complications.
- Strong winds that can create damage and hazards as it blows things around or lead to power outages.
- Dew in the mornings that can freeze in cold enough temperatures, creating slippery conditions, especially for walking.
- Fog that can greatly diminish visibility on the roads.
- Colder temperatures, in general, that can be accompanied by more frequent infections, as well as stiff muscles and joints, which can make balance more challenging and falls and injuries more likely.
- Carbon monoxide dangers, which increase in the winter as people turn on gas heaters, space heaters, and fireplaces. If there is insufficient ventilation, carbon monoxide can build up in your home and lead to illness, unconsciousness, or even death.
- Weaker sunlight during the winter months, which can significantly alter our overall mood and energy levels. The sunlight’s changing cues are what signal our bodies to wake up and expend more energy in summer or pull in to conserve energy in winter.
13 Tips to Keep Seniors Healthy This Winter
Review the following winter health tips for Bay Area seniors to understand how you can integrate them into your life.
- Be aware of balance challenges. Remember that your strength and balance can change from day to day, so it’s important to be aware and realistic about your limitations. Be careful about walking outside when it may be slippery and even walking indoors when your body may be colder and stiffer. You can also follow this guide for simple balance exercises you can practice right at home to improve strength and coordination at the same time.
- Stay active as much as possible. Even though the darker, colder days seem to discourage us from regular activity, it’s important to keep the body moving. Not only does movement warm us up, but it also helps to loosen and strengthen muscles and joints, work up our appetites, and maintain healthy body weight. Consider opportunities for indoor swimming and water aerobics, as well as local group fitness classes that also promote socialization.
- Get some outdoor time. Whenever possible, it helps to get fresh air and exposure to natural sunlight. Be careful to stay warm and avoid risks of falling.
- Be aware of depression. Seniors are at risk of depression in general, and seasonal affective disorder in the low light of winter can be of particular concern. Being aware of these challenges can help to explain changes in mood, energy, and motivation. Because winter is a time when we’re more likely to hunker inside, it’s even more important that older adults have regular opportunities for socialization, such as a social day program. If your aging loved one is still feeling isolated and depressed, a crisis intervention hotline and warmline like the Friendship Line (800-971-0016) is always there for them to call for support and companionship. Seniors can also benefit greatly from sessions with a therapist.
- Dress in warm layers. It can get chilly here in the Bay Area, but the temperature can also fluctuate quite a bit between the day and night. It’s still a good idea to dress in layers, so you can choose your warmest coverage or remove items if the temperature jumps up. Older adults may experience poorer circulation, which can lead to hypothermia and other complications, so it’s even more important that you keep warm in the winter.
- Get some immunity boosts. We’re more likely to catch infections in the winter when more contagions seem to go around. You can anticipate certain instances of sickness by getting a flu shot and by seeking other immunity boosters, such as vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals from a well-rounded diet.
- Eat fruits and vegetables. In-season winter fruits and vegetables are different from what we can find in the summer, but it’s very important that we keep these nutrient-dense options on the menu. Look for hearty greens, such as kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli; root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, and beets; citrus fruits; pomegranates; kiwis; and pears.
- Take a vitamin D supplement. With the lower sunlight in winter and the greater vulnerability of aging adults’ bones and balance, it’s important to supplement your vitamin D intake. Consult with a doctor for the appropriate dosage.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector. Because winter heating sources can increase the presence of carbon monoxide in the home and because the gas is not one we can detect with our senses, it’s a critical idea to install a working carbon monoxide detector. It’s also necessary to have adequate ventilation: Keep external vents clear for the furnace to operate properly. Do not plan to use a gas stove for heat, even in the case of a power outage.
- Stay on top of fire safety. Especially with the use of heaters, fire danger in the home also increases in winter. Be sure to keep the areas around heaters clutter free, and plug electrical heaters in directly to the wall rather than by running extension cords. Also, double check that all of the smoke detectors in your home are working.
- Have plans for an emergency. In case of power outages and other disasters, you should have a comprehensive plan for emergencies. Check out our guide for preparing an emergency supply kit and action plans. During the winter, always have extra blankets handy and flashlights. Have a plan for communication with your local community support system and keeping distant family up to date on your safety.
- Install outdoor lights. With more hours of darkness during the winter and other dangers of slips and falls, it helps to have sufficient lighting outside of your home. Opt for lights with motion sensors to turn on automatically when anyone is nearby or lights with timers set to turn on during the dark hours.
- Road safety. Be aware of additional hazards on the road in the winter: rain and freezing rain can cause accidents, even for careful drivers; fog can impede visibility; high winds can make it more challenging to control the car; accidents and mudslides can cause backups and alter your route. Winter may be a good time to consider alternate forms of transportation if any of these conditions will pose a significant challenge to older adults who drive.
Focus on Self-Care for Seniors This Winter
These tips are a good start to an overall strategy of self-care during a challenging season. As we get into later life, it’s important that we stay in touch with our needs as much as possible so that we can fulfill them or reach out and find the resources that can. Winter does slow us down, and if we can do what it takes to stay healthy, we can also take advantage of the quiet introspection and meditative quality of the season.
For more ideas about resources and strategies for a healthy winter, reach out to Institute on Aging. We are committed to helping aging adults and their caregivers live through challenges gracefully and in the community.