Tag Archives: healthy living

Surprising Health Benefits of Cold Weather

By: John A. Billon, M.D.

Although cold weather is often associated with health problems such as cold and flu, you may be surprised to learn that the cold has some health benefits, too. Read on to learn how lower temperatures can be good for you.

Fewer allergies: Plants don’t make pollen in the winter, so we allergy sufferers generally feel better in cold weather.

Less bug-borne disease: Pesky insects like mosquitoes and ticks are in short supply in cold weather, greatly reducing our risk of catching the nasty diseases they may carry, such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease and Zika virus.

Reduced inflammation: Similar to putting ice on an injury, cold weather can reduce inflammation and pain. One study found that runners exposed to cold temperatures recovered faster from workouts. This suggests that exercising in winter may result in less inflammation and soreness than in the summer.

Improved brain function: There’s evidence suggesting our brains work better at cooler temperatures. One study found that 62 degrees was the best for schoolchildren to learn, and other research found that people study better when the weather is cold.

Increased fat burn: Besides your body using more calories to stay warm, research suggests being cold can increase your ability to burn fat. It may trigger “brown fat” in the body, a good fat that can burn off other “white” fat. Also, exercising in cold weather boosts your body’s energy expenditure for hours afterwards, so you end up burning more calories.

Better emotional health: We’re less likely to be out and about in cold weather, causing us to spend more time with family and friends. Social interactions like these have been shown to reduce stress, making us more relaxed and happier. Also, if you experience seasonal depression – known as the “winter blues” ─ your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement to boost your mood and keep your emotions on an even keel.

Dr. Billon received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical School, completed his residency program in Family Practice at Stamford St. Peters University Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson, and is certified by the American Board of Family Practice. He practices at MPCP’s Arnold office.

Got Friends? You’ll Live Longer

People with strong social networks tend to be healthier, live longer and are happier.

By: Andrea C. Cuniff, M.D.

You’re probably familiar with the social benefits of friendship. Our friends:

  • Increase our sense of belonging and purpose
  • Boost our happiness and reduce our stress
  • Improve our confidence and self-esteem
  • Help us cope with trouble, such as serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one

Now, there’s a growing body of research showing that strong friendships can also improve your health. Adults with good social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and obesity. Women have better odds of surviving ovarian and breast cancers, and both sexes live longer after surviving a heart attack.

In fact, a recent study of older adults found that those with large circles of friends lived 20% longer than others with fewer friendships.

Despite the proven benefits of friendship, many of us find it difficult to maintain existing relationships or make new ones.  In our busy lives, time with friends takes a backseat to jobs, children and other responsibilities. Or maybe you moved to a new community and haven’t met many people yet.

It’s also important to remember that when it comes to friendship, quality counts more than quantity. It’s good to have a big circle of friends, but you also want to cultivate a few truly close ones who will always be there for you.

Nurturing friendships

Maintaining friendships takes time and effort.  Try these tips to keep your existing relationships healthy:

  • Practice kindness. Think of friendship as an emotional bank account. Each kind deed and word is a deposit into this account, while criticism and negativity reduce the balance.
  • Listen closely: Ask what’s going on in your friends’ lives and pay close attention to their responses. When they share details of hard times, be sympathetic but don’t give advice unless they ask for it.
  • Open up about yourself. Being willing to disclose personal experiences and concerns shows that your friend holds a special place in your life, and it deepens your connection.
  • Show that you can be trusted. Follow through on commitments you’ve made. When your friends share confidential information, keep it private.
  • Make yourself available. Building a close friendship takes time. Make an effort to see new friends regularly, and to check in with them in between.

Making new friends

It’s just as important to expand your circle of friends. Look at your existing social network for possible new connections. Think about people who:

  • You’ve worked or taken classes with
  • You’ve been friends with in the past but have lost touch
  • You’ve enjoyed chatting with at social gatherings
  • You share family ties with

If anyone stands out, reach out. Extend an invitation to coffee or lunch, or ask a mutual friend to introduce you. You will need to be persistent, and you may need to meet a few times before you can tell if this new relationship will work out.

Other good ways to make friends include:

  • Attend community events: Look for groups or clubs that gather around an interest or hobby you share.
  • Volunteer: You can form strong connections when you work with people who have mutual interests.
  • Join a faith community:  Attend special activities and events for new members.

Starting and keeping friendships takes time and commitment. But it’s an investment that can pay off in better health and a happier life for you and your friends.

Dr. Andrea Cuniff received her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and completed her residency program in Family Medicine at Franklin Square Hospital Center. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and sees patients at MPCP’s Annapolis office.

Keep Hydrated, Stay Safe

By: George Cavanagh, M.D.

Summer is here. Time for picnics, sports, working in the yard ─ and the risk of dehydration.

Our bodies normally lose fluids in the form of exhaled water vapor, in sweat, and in urine and stool. Along with water, small amounts of salts are also lost. However, we become dehydrated when we lose more water than we take in, and our bodies don’t have enough water to carry out normal functions.

Dehydration often occurs in hot weather during outdoor work or exercise, but it can also be caused by illnesses such as diarrhea, vomiting or fever. Anyone may become dehydrated, but young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to death.

The signs of mild to moderate dehydration include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Sluggishness
  • Decreased urine output. (Urine color may indicate dehydration. If it is deeply yellow or amber, you may be dehydrated.)

If you’re a healthy adult, you can usually treat mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, including water, sports drinks, or oral rehydration solutions.  However, if you develop any of these severe symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Lack of urination
  • Shriveled skin (that doesn’t bounce back when pinched)
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations (the feeling that your heart is pounding or jumping)

The best approach is to prevent dehydration in the first place. If you are caring for people who are sick, make sure they get plenty of fluids if they have diarrhea, vomiting or fever.

If you need to be outside in the heat, follow these steps to keep hydrated:

  • Take plenty of fluids and drink continuously to replace what you lose
  • Avoid exercise and exposure during the hottest part of the day, typically mid-afternoon
  • Wear a hat and light-colored and loose-fitting clothing
  • Carry a personal fan or mister to cool yourself
  • Break up your exposure to hot temperatures and direct sun. Find air-conditioned or shady areas and allow yourself to cool between exposures
  • Avoid alcohol consumption because alcohol increases water loss

Remember, the key to preventing dehydration is to replace the water you lose, so drink up!

George Cavanagh, M.D.
Dr. George Cavanagh is an MPCP partner and practices in our Bowie office. He is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.

Rethinking Drinking: What’s the Healthy Choice?

James Chamberlain, M.D.

I am often asked questions about alcohol use, such as how much is safe and are there any health benefits. I tell my patients that drinking in moderation is fine. Alcohol is a part of our social fabric and there is nothing inherently bad about it. I tell my patients they don’t have to give up their glass of wine with dinner or a beer or two at a party, as long as they aren’t driving home. But I remind them that there are well-known downsides to excessive alcohol use and I urge caution for anyone who chooses to drink.

Clearly, the key is moderation. According to the Mayo Clinic, that is one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces
  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces

Risks of Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking is defined as more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week for women and for men older than age 65, and more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week for men age 65 and younger. Binge drinking is four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within two hours for men.

Heavy drinking can increase your risk of serious health problems, such as:

  • Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
  • Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage and other problems in an unborn child

When to Avoid Alcohol

In certain situations, even moderate drinking may pose health risks. Ask your doctor whether you should avoid alcohol if:

  • You’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • You have liver or pancreatic disease
  • You have heart failure or you’ve been told you have a weak heart
  • You take prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol
  • You’ve had a hemorrhagic stroke (when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures)
  • Any time you are going to get behind the wheel
  • In combination with a variety of medications – always consult your doctor about the “drug interaction” potential of your medication with alcohol

Warning signs of problem drinking

  • You feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking
  • You lie to others or hide your drinking habits
  • Your friends or family members are worried about your drinking
  • You need to drink in order to relax or feel better
  • You “black out” or forget what you did while you were drinking
  • You regularly drink more than you intended to
  • You have had problems in relationships, with work or with the law related to drinking
  • You have had medical problems related to alcohol use

Are There Benefits?

Over the years, several studies have suggested possible benefits for moderate alcohol use, including:

  • Reducing risk of developing and dying from heart disease
  • Lowering risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)
  • Reducing risk of diabetes
  • Slight reduction in overall mortality for moderate drinkers when compared to non-drinkers

The key again is moderation. Many people find it difficult to stay under one or two drinks a day. A glass of wine or a beer each evening followed by heavier drinking on weekend nights is too much. It’s the average consumption per day that matters. If you know you will be drinking on the weekends it’s best to avoid those weeknight drinks. And everyone should be aware of the signs of problem drinking and seek help if they find themselves unable to control their alcohol use.
Talk to your family doctor if you are concerned about your drinking. We can help you figure out if it’s a problem and get you the help you need if it is.

Additional resources:

James Chamberlain, M.D.Dr. James Chamberlain is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. He received his medical degree from University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1985 and completed his residency program in Family Practice at The Medical University of South Carolina in 1988. Dr. Chamberlain sees patients in the Queenstown office.