Tag Archives: winter health

Feeling Down? It May Be the Winter Blues

By: Jamie Harms, M.D.

It’s the coldest, darkest time of the year. It seems like spring will never come. For many people, this time of year brings feelings of sadness ‒ the “winter blues.”

Perhaps you recognize some of the symptoms in yourself: increased sleep; increased appetite, with cravings for starches and sugars; weight gain; emotional irritability; and a heavy feeling in your arms and legs. You may find yourself withdrawing from social activities or having difficulty concentrating.

What causes the winter blues?

Scientists think these symptoms result from a decrease in the activity of serotonin in the brain when days get shorter. Serotonin is a chemical that helps nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other. It is important for mood and alertness, and it helps control your appetite.

How to beat the winter blues

For most people, symptoms are mild, and they end when the days get longer. Here are things you can do to feel better:

  1. Get enough sleep. Sleep and moods are closely connected, and many of us skimp on sleep in our busy lives. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
  2. Get some exercise. Exercise increases serotonin in the brain, so it can make you feel better physically and emotionally. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Bundle up and take some walks outdoors in the daylight if you can.
  3. Get some sun. Exposure to daylight can help boost your mood. Bundle up and go outside whenever you can, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  4. Pay attention to what you eat. Decrease carbohydrates and caffeine, which may make you feel better for a short time but can make moods worse overall. Choose lean meats, fruits and vegetables.
  5. Pay attention to your thoughts. It’s easy to develop habits of thinking and reacting to life events that just make you sad or worried. Practice looking for a few good things every day, even if they’re small.

Some people have more severe symptoms of depression in the wintertime. This is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you have more than mild symptoms, or symptoms that last more than a few weeks, contact your doctor. Treatments such as light therapy, anti-depressant medication, and psychotherapy can be effective for wintertime depression.

Is it a Cold or Flu?

Q & A with Neil Padgett, M.D., MPH

Q:  How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?

A:  While the common cold and flu can have similar symptoms, they are very different illnesses in terms of how long they last and how severe they are.

The first sign of a cold is often a sore throat. Symptoms that follow can include a runny nose, congestion or a cough. A cold usually lasts a few days to a week. Adults don’t often run a fever with a cold, but children may.

Flu symptoms are likely to come on suddenly and be more severe. Common signs of flu are a sore throat, fever, headache, muscle and body aches, congestion and cough. Some people get vomiting and diarrhea. While the flu can last a week or longer, it can also result in more serious illnesses like pneumonia, particularly in the elderly or very young.

Q: How can I treat a cold or flu?

A: First, get lots of rest and drink plenty of clear fluids — water, broth and sports drinks. Next, treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medications to ease fever and aches, congestion and coughs. For the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications such as Relenza® or Tamiflu®. They can make flu symptoms less severe and help you recover faster.

Q: Should I take antibiotics?

A: Antibiotics will not help because they fight bacterial infections, not viral illnesses like flu or the common cold. Taking an antibiotic will not make you feel better or help you get better faster.

Using antibiotics when you don’t need them contributes to a growing problem: antibiotic resistance. Due to over-use of antibiotics, some diseases that were once easily cured by antibiotics have become resistant to them. So, if you have a cold or flu, antibiotics are not a  treatment option.

Q:  When should I see a doctor?

A:  If you experience persistent coughing, fever, congestion, headache or painful swallowing (which may indicate strep throat), you should talk with your primary care provider. In general, if your symptoms aren’t getting better ‒ or start getting worse ─ call your doctor.

Q:  How can I prevent getting colds or the flu?

A:  Wash your hands often and avoid close contact with others who have a cold or flu.  A cold is contagious during the first three days, while a person with the flu can be contagious a day before feeling the symptoms and up to 5-7 days after getting sick.

The annual flu vaccine is your best defense against the flu.  After you get the shot, the vaccine takes 1-2 weeks to give you maximum protection, so the sooner you get vaccinated, the better.

Neil Padgett, M.D., MPHDr. Padgett is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1984 and completed his residency program in Internal Medicine at University of Maryland Medical Center in 1987.

Winter Fitness: Keep moving!

by Nnemdi Baird, D.O.

Whether you made a New Year’s resolution to exercise more or not, there are many ways to keep fit during the winter. These tips don’t require special equipment or a gym membership. The key is to move, move, move! During your regular daily routines, adding some extra movement in your steps can improve your fitness level.

We recommend that our patients engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.  Here are some ideas to help you get moving:

  • At work or shopping, park your car farther away and walk the extra few yards.
  • While doing household chores, put on some music and move with the vacuum or the dust mop.
  • When possible, take the stairs to help tone your back and leg muscles- and get your heart pumping.
  • Don’t just sit and watch television, get on the floor and do some sit-ups, push-ups or other floor exercises.
  • If you have a higher than average (more than 8 feet) ceiling- maybe in the garage or basement- jump rope.
  • Or try a new routine with some yoga or pilates or tai chi.  Your local library should have some books or even videos to show you how.
  • Even when temperatures are in the 30s, you can layer clothing and take a brisk walk as long as there is no risk of slipping on ice or snow.  Find a walking or workout “buddy” to help you stay on track.
  • Consider using an online or mobile app that helps you track your activity/fitness progress.

Whatever you choose, please stay active this winter.  A sedentary lifestyle puts you at greater risk for many health problems.  Don’t forget to encourage your family to keep moving too!

Nnemdi Baird, D.O.Dr. Baird joined Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC in 2013 and is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She received her medical degree from Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2009 and completed her residency training in Family Medicine at Albany Medical College/Albany Medical Center Department of Family and Community Medicine in 2012.

Holidays Got You Anxious?

by Janice Rutkowski, M.D.

During the holidays, many people look forward to spending time with friends and family, but there is also a great deal of anxiety associated with various preparations, travel and time commitments. There may be an inability to sleep properly, exercise wanes and diets can be abandoned. How do we decide if this is “normal” stress from the holidays or is there more involved?

There are many kinds of anxiety disorders and these may have to be treated differently depending on the cause and symptoms. These include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobia. Modalities of treatment may include medication and/or counseling. Your physician should be able to diagnose the condition and determine appropriate treatment.

When should you seek medical help? If the level of anxiety is interfering with your day-to-day activities, the symptoms have been present for over 2 weeks, symptoms are worsening over time or interpersonal relationships are suffering as a result, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss therapeutic options.

Janice Rutkowski, M.D.Dr. Rutkowski is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She received her medical degree from the University of Limoges in 1981 and completed her residency program in Internal Medicine at Maryland General Hospital in 1984.