Winter Break is Almost Here – Are You Ready?

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As I write, our teenagers are engaged in midterms, hanging onto to the sliver of the proverbial sunrise on the horizon called winter break or Yeshiva Vacation Week. Jerusalem. Miami. Vail. Acapulco. St. Moritz. No matter the continent, whether it’s warm or cold or you’re staying home, you need to prepare to assure a win-win.

Here is some “doctor stuff” to share.

Warm or cold, think “sunblock” or “sunscreen.” This is needed, whether you are in a pool, playing tennis, skiing down a slope, snowboarding or ice skating. You will be coming face-to-face with the sun in almost any setting possible. Smear your face and all exposed skin with sunscreen. Of course, avoid the eye area.

It’s easier to think about reaching for the bottle or tube to smear yourself and your loved ones with protection from those ultraviolet rays when you are in a warm climate. Yet the same holds true for the cold climates. The sun rays may feel weaker during the winter but in reality, they are present and stronger than you realize.

Smear with sunscreen in whatever setting. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Enjoy being in the sun once you have properly “sunblocked” your skin and your children’s skins. Sunlight offers Vitamin D, a vitamin that the body requires in order to absorb calcium. Vitamin D also promotes healthy bone growth and helps to maintain healthy bones.

A short “commercial” on the benefits of Vitamin D. It is an essential vitamin so calcium can flow through the bloodstream and be absorbed into bones. Too little Vitamin D results in soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated in death of adults from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment of older adults, severe asthma in children, and different types of cancer as well as fatigue.

Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin” because the body produces it in response to the skin being exposed to sunlight. It is also occurs naturally in a few foods – including some fish, fish liver oils and egg yolks – and in fortified dairy and grain products.

Eat healthy. Exercise. And take a multivitamin that has Vitamin D and calcium in it.  Children older than 1 year of age need 600 IU, or 15 mcg, a day. Your child doesn’t have to get enough Vitamin D every day. Instead, aim to get the recommended amount as an average over the course of a few days or a week. Calcium supplementation is especially important as too many women are learning the hard way as they become older.

The need for increased calcium acquisition and storage begins very early in life, especially in the pre-adolescent years. Make sure your children have their well visits, please. Again – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Next – Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate.

This means drink water, drink water, drink water. Sports drinks are okay too. Carbonated beverages like sodas should be limited to Shabbos and Yom Tov. The kids will push back. Nothing new here – and why should you be different?

People seem to know to drink in warm climates but I am going to share with you an open secret:

You can become dehydrated in the cold weather too.

Remember Henry Worsley? He was the British explorer who died crossing Antarctica in 2016 and lost his life. Why? Dehydration.

It isn’t always easy to hydrate, especially when you are outdoors in either warm weather or layered in winter clothes. Honestly, you are probably concerned about using a bathroom. Nevertheless, if you are out in the cold for more than two hours, the cold combined with heavy clothing and high-intensity exercising like skiing or snowboarding can contribute to dehydration.

In addition, in the winter, we tend to go for longer periods without water, not realizing that breathing cold and dry air causes the body to lose fluids. When we perspire in the cold weather, the sweat turns into vapor and isn’t directly on our skin. There is not excessive perspiration that is the visual cue for us to drink water, drink water, drink water.

The cold weather can be sneaky because when you are in it, you might not feel as thirsty because your cold-weather body chemistry could affect your brain’s ability to let you know you need water. Cold weather also tends to move your body’s fluids from your extremities to your core. This increases your urine output and adds to dehydration.

So weather, oops, I meant whether, you are in a warm or cold climate or wherever you find yourself at whatever time of the year, do not rely on thirst to tell you to drink. Drink often and before you are thirsty. In the winter, people feel about 40% less thirsty yet the need to hydrate exists year round.

Further, the winter months can be a testing time for our immune system. It seems like our systems are more prone to the airborne viruses that abound. Dehydration is a contributing factor because it can weaken our immune systems. The lack of water can dry out the mucous membranes in our sinus passages and lungs. The result: Reduction in their ability to fight infection.

It is possible to overhydrate which will cause damage by lowering your sodium levels. This can cause seizures.

What’s the right amount to drink? Health authorities recommend about 64 ounces per person ages 9 and above. We are drinking to hydrate, not to be full and lose weight.

The case for drink water, drink water, and drink water is now crystal clear like the water you will be drinking. Again – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

There is safety to consider. Please “gear up” appropriately. Water ski only in areas designated accordingly. Swim in pools with a lifeguard supervising or an adult or two are present (and at least one knows how to swim). Buddying up in both the pool and in snow sports is a great way to assure safety. Helmets for those slopes. Some might say to do this in an ice-skating rink as well. Whatever the setting, know your limits and work with them. Again – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

As always, daven.

Dr. Hylton I. Lightman is a senior statesman among pediatricians, an internationally-recognized authority and diagnostician, a public speaker, expert witness and go-to resource for health issues in the Orthodox Jewish community and beyond. Originally from South Africa, he started his current practice, Total Family Care of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, PC in 1987. Dr. Lightman is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP). Dr. Lightman is a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. In addition, he is actively involved in teaching pediatric and family nurse practitioners through Columbia University, Pace University, Lehmann College, and Molloy College, as well as mentoring physician assistants through Touro College. Read more here.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.