Haims: Best reason to stay active in cold is to keep mortality rates low

Judson Haims
Visiting Angels
Judson Haims
Courtesy photo

Historically throughout the world, mortality rates have predictable and regular cycles. Mortality rates are highest during the winter months and lower during summer. Such patterns have held true for many decades, even centuries.  

However, we don’t have to be a part of such statistics. This winter, we can take ownership of our health — bettering ourselves and our well-being.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report Average Daily Number of Deaths, by Month — United States, 2017 provides data for 1999 to 2017 that clearly indicate that in the heart of winter, January, February and December were months with the highest average daily number of deaths (8,478, 8,351, and 8,344, respectively). By contrast, the summer months of June, July, and August were the months with the lowest average daily number of deaths (7,298, 7,157, and 7,158, respectively).

Cold temperatures lower immune system response levels, making illnesses more likely. Further exacerbating the potential of winter illnesses is dry winter air. When combined, cold temperatures and dry air intensify the likelihood of the flu and infectious diseases like pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis. Gastrointestinal infections are also more prevalent.

Winter’s cold temperatures have the potential to worsen pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. As temperatures fall, not only does our body and heart work harder to maintain proper body temperature but alterations in the physiology of the body may affect blood pressure, blood circulation, blood vessels, and blood clotting.

A healthy winter diet can play an essential role in keeping our immune system strong, emotions/stress better balanced, and our waistline in check.  Flavonoids and antioxidants found in citrus fruits high in vitamin C, blueberries, curcumin (turmeric), broccoli, spinach, ginger, green and black tea, along with fermented drinks that contains live cultures of bacteria like kefir and kombucha may substantially better our odds of staying healthy during the winter season.  

Understandably, the cold and snow often cause people to spend more time inside. Typically, this means couch time, watching TV, reading, maybe a few extra cocktails, and ultimately, minimal physical activity. Make a point to stay active this winter. While it may be tough to get motivated, don’t give up all thoughts of staying active.

First and foremost, dress appropriately. Layering provides the most effective way to stay warm and dry. If possible, try to ensure that the layer closest to you body is made of a material that allow moisture to be wicked away. Cotton it not a good choice as once it gets wet, it tends to stay wet. Also, your outer most layer should be one that is wind and water-resistant.

If you don’t have such clothing, make a purchase. You don’t have to spend much. However, whatever you choose to spend will cost far less than the possible health repercussions of not being active this winter.

Make sure to stretch before exercising in the cold. Muscles and joints are at great risk of strain and injury when they are not loose from being warmed up. Simple arm circles that start small and finish with a larger motion is always good. Additionally, arm swings with a twisting at the waist from left to right will help loosen up tight muscles and joints. Don’t forget a few high steps raising your knees toward your chest (touch a wall for balance if needed)

Physical activity in cooler temperatures does have benefits. Research indicates that exercising in cold weather (below 66 degrees F) can transform white fat, specifically excess belly and thigh fat, into calorie-burning brown fat and helps regulate sugar (glucose) and fat metabolism.

Last month Nature Medicine posted an article, Association of step counts over time with the risk of chronic disease that addressed how walking may help prevent weight gain, lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. Walking may also even help with sleep apnea. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that just 8,200 steps is associated with lowering risks of all these chronic conditions.

Our Colorado winter weather allows for people to be out and about. More often than not, even in the heart of winter, we can have temperatures similar to that of springtime. Get outside this winter and be proactive in living a better quality of life.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is and 970-328-5526.