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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Winter Health Tips for Belly Dancers

 

By Shira

 

 

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Table of Contents

 

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Introduction

Winter weather brings with it certain health risks caused by cold weather, slippery conditions, and seasonal illnesses.

As dancers, we can't afford to get sick or injure ourselves, because that can stop us from teaching and performing, which in turn means loss of income and business momentum.

This article contains tips for working belly dancers to stay healthy and injury-free during the winter months.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Shira.

Iowa City

 

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Colds & Flu

Colds and flu can pose a risk all year long, but winter is the peak season for both. Reasons for this include:

  • Certain seasonal patterns govern how illnesses spread from their points of origin.
  • The winter season causes people to change their behavior in ways that can leave them more vulnerable.
  • Winter weather creates risks that are typically not an issue in the summer.

In the United States, between 5-20% of the population is likely to become ill with the seasonal flu in a given winter. Flu activity usually peaks in January and February. Colds, of course, can occur all winter long.

These health tips can help you mitigate these risks, and minimize your risk of getting sick.

 

Support Your Body's Natural Defenses

A healthy adult possesses natural defenses that enable most people to avoid getting sick. When a normally-healthy person becomes ill, it is usually because those defenses were weakened either by the environment or by that person's behavior. The good news is that we can control these factors and enjoy better health as a result.

Manage Allergies

The allergy that causes only a mild nuisance in the summer can make a person vulnerable to illness in the winter. That is because an allergy can cause mucus to form in the breathing passages and lungs, which in turn creates a breeding ground for the bacteria and viruses that cause colds, influenza, and infections.

By controlling the allergies, you can reduce your risk of becoming ill.

I know one person, for example, who didn't know that he was allergic to mold. Every winter, he became ill with bronchitis, and each winter it was more severe than the one before. Eventually, his doctors figured out that his allergy was creating a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. He had the heating ducts in his house professionally cleaned, began using a neti pot to prevent the buildup of allergens in his noses and sinuses. He has not had a recurrence of bronchitis since.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

Here are tips for minimizing the health risks that can be caused by allergies:

  • Heating Ducts in Your Home. Over time, the heating ducts of a building can accumulate dust, mold, animal dander, pollen, and other allergens. When winter arrives, use of the furnace can spew these materials into the air you breathe and trigger your body to respond. The solution? Hire a contractor every autumn to clean the heating ducts in your home or apartment.
  • Heating Ducts in Your Office. If many people at your workplace seem to be getting sick, talk to Human Resources about whether it would be possible to get those heating ducts cleaned. Point out to them that the productivity lost due to illness could be avoided by providing a healthier work environment.
  • Use a Neti Pot Regularly. A neti pot irrigates the nose and sinuses, washing away allergens that may have built up and germs that may be residing there. This eliminates a potential breeding ground, and reduces the quantity of bacteria and viruses that are trying to enter the body through that route.
  • Beware of Firewood. If you bring firewood into your home, there may be mold clinging to it, which in turn can cause an allergic response in people with mold sensitivity. Look for ways to minimize the potential for allergic reaction. For example, instead of storing firewood in the living room, store it in the garage or mud room until you are ready to use it. Or, use antihistamines recommended by your doctor to control your allergic reactions on those occasions when you want to have a fire in the fireplace.
  • Away from Home. When visiting other people's homes, or when staying in hotels, you won't have control over allergens in the environment. For these situations, ask your doctor what tools would best to manage them, such as neti pot or antihistamines.
  • Consult Your Allergist. Ask your favorite health care professional for advice on how to manage your allergies. If you don't know what your allergies are, ask for scratch tests, then discuss solutions specific to the type of allergy you have, your lifestyle, and your overall health situation.
Shira

 

Your Respiratory Immune System

Some medical experts consider the body to possess more than one immune system. One of these is the respiratory system of nose, throat, and sinuses. In a healthy person, this system can intercept bacteria and viruses before they enter the bloodstream to cause illness.

This is a simplified explanation of how it works: Inhaled bacteria are trapped by mucus, which is then swallowed and destroyed by the digestive process. Sometimes bacteria penetrate beyond the mucus layer in their quest to take hold in your body. Beneath the mucus is the surface epithelium of the respiratory tract, which targets the bacteria that penetrate to that level and kills them. You need to take proper care of your breathing passages to empower them to do their job of keeping you infection-free.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.

Dehydration poses a major risk to the respiratory immune system. This important defense system requires moisture in order to function properly.

Dehydration is a bigger risk in the winter than it is in the summer due to the outdoor air carrying less humidity. In addition, the heated air coming out of a furnace is dry.

These health tips aim to help you keep your breathing passages operating at peak effectiveness all winter long:

Shira
  • Use a Humidifier in Your Office. People with office jobs often spend 7-8 hours, perhaps more, at their desks. A humidifier at your desk will improve the quality of the air that you breathe at work.
  • Use a Humidifier in Your Bedroom. People sleep 6-8 hours per night, and a humidifier will help your breathing passages stay hydrated while you sleep.
  • Take a Humidifier When You Travel. Place it near your bed. This is particularly important for dancers who travel frequently, such as workshop instructors. Hotel rooms, airplanes, and airports are notorious for their dry air. A small travel humidifier packs easily, and uses standard bottled water such as you can buy in vending machines while on the road. The bottle can be refilled with tap water during your stay and discarded when you go home.
  • Keep a Mug of Hot Water Close at Hand. This is helpful for people who don't spend time at a desk, such as people who drive around, work at cash registers, or are otherwise mobile. You don't need to drink the water (though you could), but simply inhaling the steam coming off the top of a hot mug of water will help your breathing passages obtain some of the moisture they crave. Try adding a twist of lemon and honey, then drink it.
  • Keep a Teakettle of Hot Water Close at Hand. An electric teakettle in your office will keep a supply of hot water ready for you to pour into your mug, plus the steam it generates will help humidify the surrounding air.
  • Keep Potted Plants Nearby at Both Home and Office. The amount of moisture that the plants themselves generate isn't enough to be meaningful, but every time you water the plant you store a supply of water in the soil that can evaporate into the atmosphere around you to contribute to humidifying the air.
  • Use a Neti Pot Once a Day. The water from the neti pot will hydrate your nose and sinuses.
  • Use a Squirt Bottle of Saline Water. Squirt saline into the nose when feeling tingly from the dryness of surrounding air. This can be purchased at the drugstore, or you can mix up your own at home. A small bottle can be carried onto an airplane for use in flight.
  • Use a Steam Room When You Can. Some gyms are equipped with a steam room. Your skin and breathing passages will thank you if you can spend 15-20 minutes per day in one of these.
  • Take Long, Lingering Baths. Fill the bathtub, and linger in it. Read something, or close your eyes and enjoy relaxing. Let your breathing passages bask in the steam coming off the hot water. When done, don't drain the tub right away. Let it continue emitting moisture into the air to humidify not only the bathroom, but also to escape into surrounding rooms. This is an excellent way to deal with dry hotel rooms when traveling.
  • Hot Moist Washcloth. Place a washcloth soaked in hot water over your nose and mouth and breathe through it until it cools. This helps when on board an airplane - just bring your own washcloth and ask the flight attendant for a cup of hot water - they usually have some for making tea.
  • Drink Plenty of Water. It's easy to become dehydrated when the air around you is very dry. Drink plenty of water. Not only does it provide the nourishment your immune system requires, it also helps your body in many other ways. Dehydration can impair your sense of balance and make you get dizzy more easily, which in turn can affect your dancing. It can cause headaches and a general feeling of something not being "right". Drinking enough water helps prevent these problems.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

Shira

 

Diet

  • Limit Portions of Vasoactive Foods. Avoid eating too many vasoactive foods in one meal. These foods cause sniffles, which create a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. One or two small portions in a meal shouldn't pose a problem, but the more of them you eat in a single meal, the stronger the effect they can have on your body. Examples of vasoactive foods include wine, tomatoes, fermented cheeses (such as Parmesan), avocado, banana, plum, orange, pickled herring, and salt dried fish.
  • Eat Foods Rich in Beta Carotene. Examples of foods with this nutrient include cayenne pepper, romaine lettuce, kale, red leaf lettuce, spinach, and carrots. Beta carotene rids the body of free radicals which can damage cells, and doing so protects against infection.
  • Eat Foods or Drink Juices Rich in Vitamin C. This vitamin has long held a reputation for guarding the body against colds and other infections. it can be found in pineapples, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, broccoli, and tomatoes. Store your juice in a dark place, or an opaque container, because light can cause the Vitamin C to break down.
  • Eat Ginger. Ginger may be eaten raw (many people like it with sushi), drunk in a tea, eaten in candied form, or used in powder form as a spice in foods or smoothies. Ginger is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-viral, killing germs inside the body. It helps eliminate congestion. Bonus for dancers: in about 60% of the population, ginger helps prevent nausea, making it easier to do spins without feeling queasy afterward.
  • Eat Garlic. Garlic contains a substance called allicin which medical studies have found to be anti-bacterial and anti-viral. In particular, eat freshly minced garlic. Add some to olive oil as a dip for bread, or stir it into a savory smoothie. Garlic is vasoactive, but recommended in spite of that due to its potent health benefits.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

Shira

 

Rest, Rest, Rest

Sleep is the single most important thing you can do to stay healthy.

  • Get Enough. Proactively seek out 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
  • Listen to Your Body. If you feel drowsy during the day, take a nap! Sleepiness during the day is often your body's signal that it requires more sleep to stay healthy.
  • Treat Insomnia. If you have insomnia for any reason, seek out remedies. Some people find camomile tea or hot milk at bedtime helpful. Others may have treatable hormone imbalances (such as during menopause) that affect sleep. A hot bath before bedtime can relax muscle tension and make sleep easier.

If the above tips don't help, consult your health care professional for assistance.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

 

Other Healthy Habits

  • Exercise. Moderate exercise boosts the body's defenses against bacteria and viruses. So keep on dancing! But don't overdo the exercise to the point of becoming fatigued, because fatigue can weaken the body.
  • Spend Time in the Sun. One reason for increased sickness in the winter is that people stay indoors more, and when they do go outdoors they bundle up, with very little skin exposed to the sun. Your skin manufactures Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Vitamin D naturally regulates your immune system and some evidence suggests it may protect against colds and flu. Enjoy some outdoor sports such as skiing or sledding! If that's not possible try taking Vitamin D3 supplements.
Shira

 

Minimize Exposure to Germs

  • Wash Hands Frequently. Most people wash their hands after visiting the restroom, but wash yours more often during cold and flu season. Wash before every meal or snack. Wash after handling items such as computer keyboards and cell phones that may be breeding grounds for germs. To ensure you kill or wash away germs, work up a good lather with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean Computer Keyboards. Germs build up on computer keyboards. Use rubbing alcohol or antiseptic wipes to clean your keyboard regularly.
  • Clean Your Steering Wheel. The steering while of your car frequently builds up germs. Keep a packet of antiseptic wipes in your car, and use them to wipe down the steering wheel before starting the car.
  • Beware of Your Cell Phone. Don't put your cell phone near your face, because cell phones often carry 10 times as much bacteria as toilet seats. Use a wireless headset instead, and wipe it once a week with antiseptic wipes. Many cell phone manufacturers advise against wiping the screen with alcohol because it can damage the touch sensitivity. Check with your manufacturer for instructions on cleaning it. If that is not an option, encase it in a plastic bag and change the bag periodically.
  • Wipe Off Shopping Cart Handles. Some grocery stores now provide sanitary wipes to clean off shopping cart handles and shelves before you shop. Use them. If your store doesn't provide them, bring your own. The person who used the cart before you may have sneezed on the cart, placed their diapered baby on the shelf/seat, or handled the cart after touching their nose and mouth.
  • Wipe Off Surfaces of Exercise Machines at the Gym. Sometimes people go to the gym in spite of having a cold. Their hands may leave germs on the weight pins, treadmill controls, and other surfaces that they touch. Antibacterial wipes help protect you.
  • Wipe Off Microwave Buttons Before Using Them. Sanitary wipes protect you against germs left on the microwave buttons by other family members or coworkers.
  • Avoid Buffet Meals and Salad Bars. Other diners may handle serving utensils after touching their own infected noses, eyes, or mouths. They may sneeze on the food, or use their fingers to grab a taste. They leave their germs behind to infect you.
  • Wash Your Produce. Surprisingly, many people don't wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them. It may look clean, but organic produce is fertilized with manure, and non-organic produce may be fertilized with chemicals that are toxic to your body. Simply washing it before you eat it will reduce your exposure to environmental toxins and germs.
  • Avoid Crowds. If possible, avoid places where large crowds congregate during cold and flu season. Many people go out in public when coughing and sneezing, and can spread their germs to you. Do your grocery shopping at times of day when there are unlikely to be many other customers. Avoid shopping malls at peak times. If your "day job" permits you to telecommute, do it during the season.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.

Shira

 

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Avoiding Injury & Muscle Tension

Slippery Conditions

The risk of suffering an injury is higher in the winter due to cold weather and slippery conditions. These tips will help reduce the risk of winter injuries.

  • Don't Slip! Snow and ice on sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots can cause you to slip and fall, risking sprains or broken bones. Put shoe chains on your shoes when you go outdoors to give you the traction you need to stay safe.
  • Get Plenty of Sleep! If you are sleep-deprived and slip on ice, you are at greater risk of falling and injuring yourself than you would be if well rested.
  • Do Balancing Exercises. Do exercises designed to improve your sense of balance. For example, the yoga triangle pose, tree pose, and dancer pose are all useful. A strong sense of balance will help protect you from falling.
  • Stay Indoors If Sick. Illness such as cold or flu can impair your sense of balance, putting you at greater risk of slipping and falling on snow or ice.
  • Avoid Drinking Alcohol. Even one glass of wine can impair your sense of balance, making you more likely to fall and injure yourself. Avoid drinking alcohol when conditions are slippery.

 

Exercise Safety

  • Wear Legwarmers When Beginning to Dance. Legwarmers help your leg muscles warm up more quickly as you begin to exercise, reducing the risk of injury due to cold muscles.
  • Warm Up. Muscles are likely to knot up in cold winter weather, placing them at higher risk of strain. Take extra care to warm up thoroughly before dancing. Don't count on your teacher or troupe director to warm you up sufficiently - arrive at class/rehearsal early and do your own warmup before it begins.
  • Don't Stretch Cold Muscles. Don't use stretching as a warmup because doing so can cause a strain injury. Wait until time for cooldown at the end of dancing to stretch.
Winter

 

Muscle Pain

Walking outdoors in slippery conditions can lead to back pain. It is caused partly by muscles tightening up to keep your balance when walking on slippery surfaces, and partly by cold weather provoking muscles to tighten up to generate internal heat.

  • Dress Warmly. Wearing a warm coat, gloves, and hat can protect against muscles tensing up to generate heat.
  • Get Enough Traction. Use shoe chains or boots with quality treads to protect from slipping. When you feel at risk of falling, muscles tense up in readiness to respond. Such tension may remain long after it is no longer needed.
  • Release Muscle Tension. Use massage, stretching, hot baths, or a hot tub to ease muscles which have tensed up due to winter weather.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

Hot Tub

 

Winter Storm Safety

When I was 17 years old, I decided to drive somewhere in a blizzard. I ended up in a rollover accident that injured my back and caused a lifetime of pain. I was lucky — at least I was able to heal enough to resume a normal life. Because of this experience, I learned at a young age to respect the risks posed by winter storms. Consider these tips for staying safe:

  • Cancel. If a winter storm is raging with snow, ice, or high wind, cancel gigs and classes. No gig or class is important enough to risk serious injury. Remember, even if you drive safely, there is no guarantee the other people on the road will!
  • Car Supplies. When driving a car in winter conditions, certain supplies are essential. These include two ice scrapers (in case one breaks), a snow brush, traction pads to put under tires, a small shovel to remove snow from behind wheels if needed, and a small pail of sand. Also valuable would be an extra pair of warm gloves and an extra warm cap.
  • Stay Overnight. Instead of coming home in a winter storm, stay overnight at a hotel or a friend's home. Wait for the storm to pass before heading home.
  • Survival Kit. If you absolutely must travel during a winter storm, pack a survival kit in your car with supplies that you would need if you were to try living in your car for two days. It should contain extra-warm clothes such as long underwear, bottled water, blankets, and protein-rich snacks such as mixed nuts or protein bars. During a winter storm, it is common for government agencies to impose temporary bans on tow trucks until the weather clears. If you get stuck or run off the road, you will need to be able to survive in your car until the storm has passed.
  • Fog Lights. In a blizzard with whiteout conditions, try using your fog lights instead of normal headlights. Sometimes those provide better visibility.
 

 

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