The Mindful Path – The Gift of Winter
By Marilyn Halpern MSW, LSW ~
Colorado may be the best place to enjoy the year-round beauty of endless blue skies and sunny days. We often enjoy the favorable conditions to get out and get some fresh air even in the winter months. According to Nature Scared, people who are 65 years old and older can benefit from the restorative qualities of being outdoors. Nature supports mental clarity and well-being along with better health outcomes. In older adults, studies show that physical activity in green spaces can be linked to better moods, decreased chance of depression, reduced stress levels, increased mobility, and improved cognitive function. The following tips can aid in making outdoor adventures sensible and safe.
Layers & gear. A wise Norwegian saying is- “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!” Think in terms of dressing from head to toe. Your gear might include hats, earmuffs, scarves, thermal underwear, gloves, a vented coat and sturdy, non-slip shoes or boots. Layers not only prevents cold from seeping in but also retains heat better. A vented jacket and layers also allow you to modulate your body heat comfortably if you get too warm. December is the perfect month to inventory your winter gear and create a wish list of what you’d like to receive as a gift or give yourself. When venturing out, don’t forget your sunglasses, lip balm and sunscreen.
Drink up. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the winter months can actually be worse for dehydration in in older adults, as sweat evaporates more rapidly in the cold, dry air and there is fluid loss just through the process of breathing. In general, the problem of dehydration is significant because as we age the sense of thirst diminishes. When exploring outdoors, take along a thermos of hot tea, cocoa, cider, or coffee. If your walk is on the shorter side, be sure to top off your adventure with your favorite beverage, clear broth or water when you return indoors.
A snowy wonderland. Oftentimes the sun will clear paths to make outdoor walks enjoyable. The featured photo this month is of the Denver Highland Canal after our first snow. Be on the lookout for opportunities to trudge in green spaces. When walking in the winter, be careful of snowy patches and black ice.
Timing is everything. Plan your outing so you don’t get too cold. Older adults are susceptible to hypothermia because conditions like diabetes, thyroid disease, arthritis, cognitive decline, Parkinson’s disease, and some medications can negatively impact body heat retention. Hypothermia happens when the body temperature gets too low. Check the temperature and wind chill to gauge the length of time to safely stay outside.
Play it safe. If the weather outside is frightful, stay indoors. Consider outsourcing snow removal. Shoveling snow should be considered a high-intensity exercise that can be a tremendous strain on your heart and lungs. During inclement weather, consider having a dog walker brave the hazardous conditions and walk your dog. Postpone or cancel plans in snowy and icy conditions. “Unfortunately, falls are a common occurrence for senior citizens, especially during the winter months,” says Dr. Stanley Wang, a physician at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California. Often these falls cause major injuries such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and major lacerations. Always think safety first.
Healthy Aging offers a printable PDF offering more winter safety tips at https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/tip-sheet-winter-safety-older-adults
Enjoy the stark beauty of Denver in winter. If you are unable to get outdoors, make your way to sunny windows to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the frosty beauty. Have a beautiful holiday season filled with a spark of deep appreciation for the splendor of Colorado in winter.
In memory of Irene Belarski (1929-2022) a visionary who enjoyed hiking and skiing well into her 80’s.
Marilyn Halpern is the founder and executive director of Aspen Care Services. This locally owned business provides medical power of attorney, care management and professional guardianship services in the Denver Metro area. For more information visit – www.aspencareservices.com.
Photo credit: Roland Halpern