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Discussing Winter Preparedness with Dr. Jeffrey Sternlicht

December 20, 2017
Why winter is all about preparation

Love it or hate it, winter is here and it’s a cold one. Dr. Jeffrey Sternlicht, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at GBMC, recently shared his advice on how to avoid the health hazards that cold weather, snow, and ice can bring with them. From why people over 40 should get help with shoveling to how to stay safe and warm if you get stranded in your car this winter, Dr. Sternlicht’s tips can help you have a safer, healthier winter.

“Winter is all about preparation,” says Dr. Sternlicht. “You need to know what the forecast is before you head out, dress in loose fitting layers of synthetics and wool to stay warm and dry, and make sure your home and vehicle are stocked with the supplies you need in an emergency. For your car, that means keeping an extra hat, pair of gloves, warm socks, and even a blanket or sleeping bag in the trunk. You can survive for three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three hours when you’re exposed to extreme cold, so being prepared can save your life.”

He explained that people with heart conditions, vascular disease, the elderly, and those who take medicines that affect circulation can get frostbite and hypothermia more quickly, so it’s important to dress warmly, stay dry, and limit your time outdoors when it’s very cold. And while he and other physicians suggest that anyone over 40 or who is out of shape or living with a chronic health condition avoid shoveling snow, he says that if you must shovel, go slowly, use a small shovel, push the snow rather than lifting it, and take frequent rests indoors.

Dr. Sternlicht also talked about how to reduce your risk of coming down with colds, flu, and other infections this winter. “I never have and never will miss my flu shot,” he explains. “That’s the number one strategy for lowering your risk of getting the flu.” Beyond the annual flu vaccine, he recommends eating healthy, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and 7.5 to 8 hours of good sleep per night to boost your immune system. Hand washing and avoiding touching your face can also help prevent transmission of colds and flu.

But what’s the number one risk of winter weather according to Dr. Sternlicht? Slipping and falling on ice and snow. “Every winter, I see people who are seriously injured falling on ice,” he says. “If you must go out, expect ice, wear shoes with good traction, take slow, short steps, and keep your hands out of pockets.”
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