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Winter brings unique health concerns

To stay safe during the winter months, it is important to recognize signs of illnesses related from frigid temperatures.

When the body loses too much heat, causing your core temperature to fall far below the normal 98.6, hypothermia may occur.

Symptoms can include impaired motor skills, speech and decision-making capabilities. As hypothermia progresses, breathing becomes more shallow, weakness and fatigue increase, and shivering may cease. As the body gets colder, muscles become stiff and the heartbeat uneven. Unconsciousness and death can follow.

To help prevent hypothermia, stay hydrated, make sure you are dressed appropriately and listen to your body for possible symptoms. Be aware that it doesn’t take freezing temperatures for hypothermia to occur. If not adequately dressed for conditions, especially when combined with dampness and wind chill, hypothermia is entirely possible with temperatures that are as high as 50 degrees.

If you suspect hypothermia, call 911 and get the victim into a heated environment, cover the victims head and remove any wet clothing. Warm the trunk before attempting to warm the hands and feet, as warming the extremities first can cause shock. Dress in dry clothing or wrap the person in blankets. Avoid putting the victim too close to a heat source, as this will stop them from shivering.

Frostbite can also occur in cold temperatures. Symptoms can include a pins and needles sensation, numbness, throbbing, and red and slightly swollen skin, which can appear grey or yellowish. If severe, blisters often appear along with pale, cold, waxy, and hard skin. If frostbite is suspected and no immediate medical help is available, soak affected areas in water that is room temperature (never hot) and seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

And cold temperatures make people less-likely to be physically active. If you find yourself losing motivation to exercise, some tips that might help:

• Remember exercise is as critical to your emotional health as it is to your physical health. It can relax you when you are feeling anxious, and energize you when you need a boost.

• Seek out a fitness program that piques your curiosity and interests. This may be joining a new gym, learning more about winter sports like cross country skiing or ice skating, whatever suits your personality. If home workouts suit you better, there are hundreds of great instructional videos available.

• Pace yourself! Heart attacks are particularly common in sedentary men and women who engage in sudden exercise such as shoveling snow, or jump into an exercise routine after many months of inactivity.

• Ask your doctor for guidelines before beginning an exercise program, and if you experience pain, excess sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, and/or lightheadedness, stop immediately and seek medical attention.

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