Extension expert offers winter health tips for older adults

Beat the winter blues and stay healthy year-round with three simple steps

2/1/2012 - By: Robert Mills
Claudia Collins and Senior Citizens in classroom Claudia Collins, left, teaches a class to a group of senior citizens.

The nights are longer. The air is colder. The last thing you might want to hear is that you should go outside for a walk, but a simple stroll around your neighborhood is one of three key tips to staying happy, healthy and warm this winter.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) published Winter Safety for Older Adults this year – a publication with expert insight into staying happy and healthy throughout the winter months. Though the publication is geared toward older adults, the information is universal.

“I don’t care if you’re 16 or 60,” said Claudia Collins, an aging wellness specialist for UNCE in Las Vegas. “A lot of the things we offer in this publication work for everybody.”

The crux of the publication can be boiled down to three simple steps, with additional information and tips relating back to these core principles: wash hands, stay active and stay warm.

· Wash hands – This universal advice is especially important for the elderly population. Washing your hands will help stop the spread of any germs at home or elsewhere. Collins said people would be shocked at the kinds of germs on ATM machines, gas pumps and door handles, but washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water will get rid of them and keep you healthy.

· Stay active – Get out of the house! Walk around the neighborhood, partake in activities at your senior center or visit family. It doesn’t matter what you enjoy, but bundle up and enjoy it outside. With increased activity, comes increased circulation. Better circulation means your body stays warmer longer. Though it’s tempting to stay in during colder, darker months, it’s better for you mentally and physically to stay active.

· Stay warm – Being warm is more important than being frugal. But if you’re keen on saving money, wear several loose-fitting layers around the house. Seal air leaks in drafty windows and under doors. Set your thermostat to 68 degrees. Just being ‘really cold’ can make you sick. So make your home comfortable. Contact the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for more information on low-cost heating at (702) 4861404.

“We walk into a room of people 65 and older and ask, ‘what if you could learn one secret to preventing illness that doesn’t cost a penny, that doesn’t require you to go to the doctor’s office, and all of you do it anyway?’” Collins said. “They’ll look at you and make guesses, but the secret is hand washing. You’re probably not going to get sick if you just wash your hands.”

For Collins, good health boils down to simple changes in lifestyle – with healthy patterns leading to healthy results.

“It’s really all part of a cycle,” she said. “When you exercise well, you get a good night’s sleep. When you’re exercising, you don’t fall down. When you wash your hands frequently, you don’t get sick. “

In the same way, bad habits can lead to drops in mood and overall health.

“If you’re living on sugar, you’re going to get depressed,” Collins said. “If you’re depressed, you won’t go out and walk. If you don’t walk, you won’t get good sleep. If you don’t get good sleep, you’ll get sick …”

Short-term illnesses like the common cold or flu can be prevented. According to the Centers for Disease Control, influenza and pneumonia are the fifth-leading causes of death among people aged 65 or older. Similarly, one out of three adults over the age of 65 fall every year – leading to debilitating drops in their quality of life. Both of these statistics can be significantly lowered if we take the time to wash hands, stay active and stay warm, Collins said.


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