Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Five Tips for Winter Weather Exercise Outdoors

It's winter – time to give up on your favorite outdoor exercise activities, right? Maybe not.  If you are an avid bicyclist, hiker, or runner, repulsed by the idea of cross training indoors because of the cold or snow, here’s good news; thanks to fascinating new technology and new sporting equipment options, there's just about no weather condition that can force you indoors.  Combine this with some good old-fashioned survivalist winter wisdom, and you can happily continue your outdoor routine in the cold and snow.

In this first of two articles on winter weather exercising, we'll focus on tried-and-true techniques for enjoying many of your favorite outdoor sports even the worst of winter weather. In the follow-up article, will introduce you to the latest equipment and gear – new technology to help you stay warm and safe even when the weather outside is frightful.

Common sense first

With or without the right winter wear and winter gear, you will need to work a little harder at keeping yourself safe when the weather is wicked. Here’s some common sense advice from experienced cold-weather fitness folk.
Tip #1 – Layer up!
Active cyclist and runner Heather Connan of  Southern River in Western Australia likes to continue her favorite outdoor pursuits even if it's cold or wet. Step one, she says, is “a moisture-wicking base layer. Good thermal wear doesn't make you cold when it is wet.”
Heather Conan enjoying her favorite sport in good weather

Note that she speaks of layers. This is one of the most important tricks to exercising in the cold. You may be tempted to throw on a big heavy winter coat, but your body temperature varies greatly as you work out. Dressing in layers lets you unzip or even remove layers as you warm up or as the weather changes. advises handling the winter with a threefold approach to layers, starting with the innermost layer – also known as the base layer – making it a wicking material(often a synthetic fabric, designed to move moisture away from your skin), with a middle layer of clothing comprised of an insulating material (wool or fleece clothing works well for this), and topping it off with an outer layer designed for wind, rain, or snow protection when the weather requires it.

Tip #2 – Cover up!

The colder or windier it is outside, the more you need to consider protecting your skin. Canadian outdoor enthusiast Jodi Kalman of Waterloo, Ontario agrees: “Living here in the ‘great white north’ in Canada, winters can be extremely harsh! It's not just the biting cold, but also the wind chill factor.”

Ontario's Jodi Kalman demo's layering technique

How does Kalman fight that skin exposure risk? “I layer up and make sure that I have no exposed skin, including my face; I wear a balaclava to keep my face protected from wind and sunburn. And I wear lip balm and Vaseline to keep my skin from chapping,” she advises. Anther good skin chap prevention solution that even has health benefits for your skin and lips is to coat your exposed skin with coconut oil.

Tip #3 – Don't fight the rain – work with it

Many people make the mistake of trying to stay completely dry when exercising in sleet or cold rain conditions. But the majority of experienced runners and cyclists advise against trying to waterproof yourself when exercising outdoors.  “A wind jacket is a very wise investment, even more so than a waterproof rain jacket," Connan recommends. “With a rain jacket, you will still end up wet on the inside of the jacket due to sweat.”

An overload of perspiration brought on by the sauna-like affect of a rain proof coat will make you uncomfortable at best, or even more susceptible to chill.  But with a wind-breaking jacket, “You stay warm because of the wind protection factor,” adds Connan. 

With the right base layers, getting wet doesn't mean getting cold. The trick then is to think in terms of body temperature management as your top priority, which may prevent you from becoming dripping wet from sweat while trying to stay bone dry from rain.

Tip #4 – protect your feet
Unless you wear thigh-high waterproof boots – nearly impossible and even dangerous to try while running or cycling – it's best to assume that snow or slush will result in your feet getting wet. With the right protection for your feet and ankles, you'll be fine even if your feet get wet.
  • Consider investing in a pair of trail running shoes or light hiking boots that have a reputation for good drainage and for drying quickly. You'll also benefit from the extra traction that most trail shoes/boots provide.
  • Avoid cotton socks, which will stay damp and will make your feet even colder.
  • Better choices are athletic socks made of "technical fabrics," wool sport socks, or a pair of socks that combines these two materials.
If you are dealing with less than five or six inches of snow, you may want to invest in a pair of gaiters to help keep your feet warmer and drier.  Gaiters, available from any wilderness outfitter store (check online if there isn't one near you), are a kind of fabric that holds snug to your shins/calves and drapes down over the top of your shoes. Gaiters are not only a good winter wear solution for running, walking, or hiking in snow, but useful year-round on slippery, dusty, or rocky trails to keep debris from getting inside your shoes or boots.
Tip #5 – Be more cautious!
If your favorite form of outdoor exercise involves navigating through streets or around traffic, stay aware at all times. Winter often causes conditions that hamper drivers' visibility, such as any kind of precipitation or darkness – the shorter days of winter may require you to exercise at dusk or night.
Do not assume that drivers can see you. To be safe:
  • Wear bright colored or even reflective clothing.
  • Leave the MP3 player at home; let your ears listen for approaching traffic.
  • Consider alternative routes to avoid heavy traffic or roads with no sidewalks.
Winter weather may also increase your risk of slipping and falling. To stay safe, tread lightly and move with the assumption that the ground ahead may be slippery. Take smaller steps to keep your feet under your center of gravity, and take extra precaution when turning corners.

Exercising year-round

To exercise outdoors in winter safely, and to keep it enjoyable, requires a little more forethought and preparation.  But with a little education and the right attitude, winter weather exercising is not only possible but fun.

For more tips on how to dress for successful winter fitness, check out Bike Winter's how-to page.  Most of their tips are useful for doing any outdoor sport, such as treating your lenses of your glasses with gel toothpaste to prevent fogging.  And to get the scoop on the latest gear for winter fitness, key an eye out for Part Two of this article.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, February 3, 2014

How Do You Know When You Have a Food Allergy or Intolerance?

We're hearing about them more and more often: food allergies are on the rise in the U.S. And it’s not just among children, either. Adults suffer from them as well, and as we understand more about inflammation in the body, more people are realizing that certain foods make them feel worse, regardless of how great they taste.

But how do you know whether you have a food allergy or a food intolerance? Do you handle them differently? What if it is a friend or coworker – how do you plan for their needs in the event you are making food and want to include them?


Understanding Food Allergies and Intolerances

According to WebMD, the most important difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance is that an allergy can be life-threatening. Allergies tend to show up quickly every time you ingest the allergen, and a small amount of the offending food can cause a reaction. (In fact, it’s so serious that one city in Canada is considering placing EpiPens in restaurants in case a patron has an allergic response to his or her food.)

Food intolerances are more gradual in their effect on the body, are not fatal, and are a bit harder to nail down, as they don't always occur when you eat a small amount of the triggering food. Often, you may only have a reaction when you consume too much of the food or if you eat it more often than your body to handle.

How Do I Know What My Issue Is?

As a general rule, food allergies are easier to spot than intolerances. However, if you suspect you have an issue related to food, you should see your medical doctor for testing. They can run a battery of tests that will identify any food allergies, narrow down intolerances, and help you create a menu and safe eating plan to improve your health and digestion.

But when considering symptoms, WebMD points out that both intolerances and allergies may cause nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and digestive upset. Intolerances tend towards Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms, like gas, heartburn, headaches, irritability, and even constipation or diarrhea.

Allergies reveal themselves in severe symptoms, like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, and hives or fever. You cannot wait to deal with the reaction of an allergy – you may need medical help immediately.

This is when keeping a food diary can be most helpful. Track the foods you eat every day for two weeks, and include in your notes how you feel after each meal. While allergies show up immediately, intolerances can take hours, sometimes even days to affect you, so following your symptoms over time is one of the best ways to evaluate the severity of your intolerance.

How Do I Deal With My Allergy or Intolerance?

If you have a food allergy, there is absolutely no wiggle room. You must avoid the offending food at all costs. Awareness is spreading globally about the seriousness of food allergies, so it’s much easier to find foods both in restaurants and grocery stores that are safe for you to consume. Just remember the golden rule: never trust – always ask. Even if the server offers assurances that the meal will be safe for you, if you have any qualms, ask to speak with the chef.

If you have a food intolerance, you'll need to gauge how sensitive you are. Some people experience mild sensitivities that only show up if they eat a certain food every day, or too many servings of it. Others are more sensitive, and even a small amount results in unpleasant side effects.

The Good News

With the influx of awareness around those with food allergies and intolerances, life has become much easier for those afflicted. And if your digestion isn't ideal, such as you suffer from regular bouts of gas, bloating, and bowel irregularity, it’s worth investigating with the help of your medical practitioner.

Ally Bishop
Contributing writer

Friday, January 31, 2014

Understanding Scientific Studies

As a psychology teacher, I regularly discuss the elements that make up a good scientific study. Things like double-blind elements, randomization, and the reliability of studies are crucial to their usefulness and interpretation. One of the things I notice is how often my students’ eyes start to glaze over as I start talking about these things.

So it occurred to me, how many of us really know how to read scientific studies? In today’s world, we use them to prove everything from why you should eat meat…to why you shouldn’t. Every doctor, scientist, and marketer has the beat on a study that proves what they are trying to sell or teach. So how do you know what’s real, and what is biased? If you find the study they reference, how do you know whether it has limitations, or flaws?

Find the original study. What was its intent? What were the goals of the researchers, and where was the study published? What were the limitations, or possible flaws in the study? Often, when people pull out a study and use it to base their argument, they may be summarizing the results in a way that supports their points, or they may be pulling a finding out of context of the larger meaning.

Take a moment to understand the terms. Words like placebo, randomization, and double-blind we have heard before, and often, we think we know what it means. But if you had to come up with the definition, say when your ten-year-old asks, how would you define it? Let's start with a scenario: Imagine you wanted to conduct an experiment on whether chocolate improved the mood of normal people.

  • First, you would gather a representative sample of people. This means that these people fairly represent the population in terms of diversity, economics, etc. If you only got oompa-loompas, they wouldn’t be representative to human beings across the spectrum. You then test them to ensure that they fall within normal, healthy guidelines. Then you would begin your experiment.
  • An experiment is simply a controlled environment wherein a concept is tested to see if it can be proved.
  •  The experimental group is the group of people or animals that will receive the situation or substance being tested. So in our chocolate study, this is the group eating chocolate.
  • A control group is the opposite of the experimental group: they are not receiving anything in the experiment. So this group would not receive any chocolate.
  • Every study has an independent variable – the substance or element being tested, and a dependent variable – the outcome as a result of the application of the independent variable on the experimental group. For our purposes, the chocolate is the independent variable, and the participants’ moods as a result of the chocolate is our dependent variable.
  • blind study means that no one participating in the study knew whether they were in the experimental or control group, so they can’t throw off the study (because let’s face it: when we eat chocolate, we’re convinced life is getting better, right?) 
  • double-blind study means that neither the participants in the study, nor the researcher in charge knows which group is the experimental group or the control group. This assures that the researcher’s bias can’t affect the outcome of the study.
  • A placebo is often used during drug studies, where one group – the experimental group – receives the drug being tested, and the control group receives what they are told is the drug as well, but is actually a fake pill, often made of sugar. So in our study, we would give the control group something that looked and tasted like chocolate, but really wasn’t (imagine such a thing!)
  • A randomized trial means that our “normal, healthy” people were randomly assigned to the experimental and control groups. 
Always be a skeptic. We know that advertisers are trying to get us to buy their product or service. So when they reference a study or a trial, ask for a copy of it and read it with a critical eye. Did they mention the fact that all of their participants were an odd shade of orange with green hair?

Never confuse correlation studies with scientific studies. Correlations are just that: it’s data that matches up to other data in a positive or negative way, but doesn’t prove the relationship between the two. So for example, when I was in school getting my degree in psychology, the famous example we used was when the consumption of ice cream goes up, so does the incidence of rape. So does that mean that ice cream causes people to commit sexual assault more often? Of course not! But that is the danger when we rely on correlational information: just because they are part of the same pattern does not mean they have a relationship.

If the claim sounds too good to be true, get the research and evaluate it carefully. While studies can be overwhelming to read in the beginning, focus on the conclusions, discussion, and limitations at the end of the published article, and that will often help clear up any confusion or questionable logic.

Have you ever looked up a study to find out if the claims were true? What was the result?

Ally Bishop
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fitness for the Entire Family

Family fun and fitness is more important than ever before. Obesity is now an epidemic, threatening your family's health and well-being. But, you can effectively create fun family activities to get your entire family off the couch and leading a healthier, more active lifestyle.

Why is being active as a family important?

According to Dr. Jeffrey Tanji, director of UC Davis Sports Medicine program:

  • Family fitness enhances the health and mood of family members.
  • Activity creates a family bond and creates memories.
  • Family members are more likely to continue an active lifestyle if they engage in one together.
  • Incorporating exercise in daily life creates happier, more relaxed and healthier family members.

How do you get the whole family more active together?

  • Make fitness fun! Aside from individual activities family members participate in, try sledding, skating or even having a snowball fight in the yard in winter. In warmer weather and climates, try biking or skateboarding (with proper equipment, of course!) or swimming.
  • Set goals. According to Let’s Move, America’s campaign to raise a healthier generation of kids, plan for 30 minutes of activity three times per week.
  • Set family challenges. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) is one to work towards.

What’s the key to incorporating fitness in your family’s lifestyle?

  • Demonstrate an active lifestyle yourself. Kids of all ages mimic what they see adults do. Lead an active life yourself and your family will follow suit.
  • Have special events center around a fun family activity rather than a meal. Visit a park, plan a hike or engage in some other family activity to commemorate a birthday, milestone or other special day.
  • Focus on being more active, not working out.  Also, pick family activities everyone will enjoy, so being active becomes part of your routine rather than a chore.
  • Incorporate family activity in daily life. Walk as a family, before or after dinner. Bring along the family dog, so everyone benefits. For younger kids, create games such as how many yellow houses or black cars they can spot on a block to keep things interesting. For older kids, a walk is a great time to catch up on what’s happening in school and with friends without constant interruptions.

How can you keep your family active when the weather has you stuck inside?

  • Check out an exercise video online for family fun and fitness rather than idly watching TV for hours on end.  Visit for a free exercise video.
  • Bring it indoors.  I once knew a woman who loved walking outdoors. But, when the weather got nasty, she walked inside her home and at the local mall just to keep moving.
  • Yard work needs to be done year round to some extent. Use it as a family active to get everyone moving.
  • Any family member can do simple exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, stair steps, and more. These exercises require little or no equipment and are great workouts for kids at home.  Put on some music, and get moving.

When is the best time to incorporate fitness in your family’s life?

The younger kids start moving, the more likely they will incorporate activity as part of their lifestyle. Plan family fun and fitness for weekends to accommodate everyone’s busy schedule.

Where can you find ideas for fun family activities?

With a little creativity, you’ll have your family moving in no time! Do you have your own ideas for great family fun and fitness? Feel free to share!

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Monday, January 27, 2014

What’s the Big Deal about Eating Raw Foods?

Is a friend or coworker preaching to you from the pulpit of the raw food diet?  There could be something to it – a good reason to consider adding a daily dose of raw foods into your life.  To help you decide if a raw food diet is right for you, let’s take look in this report at what a raw food diet is, why you may benefit from eating raw foods, and investigate the scientific evidence related to raw food dieting. 

Raw food

What is a raw food diet?

For the most part, a raw food diet is as simple as it sounds – eating food that is uncooked. As you might surmise, this necessarily means that the bulk of what you eat on a raw food diet will be "plant foods," such as fruits and vegetables – foods that can be safely consumed without cooking. Other foods commonly part of a raw food diet include nuts, herbs, and seeds. 

Many raw food eaters will also include certain legumes that, while they cannot be consumed in a completely raw state, can be eaten if sprouted. 

Few raw food proponents include any kind of animal products in their diet, such as meat or milk, although some will include "sushi grade" meats and, as long as they are still raw (unpasteurized), milk products as well.

One other common exception to the raw food diet is consuming foods that have been dehydrated at temperatures below 115°F. The reason for this temperature is that foods heated above 115°F will lose their living enzymes and some of their vitamin content.

Within the world of the raw food diet, there are many variations, such as those who call themselves fruitarians, consuming nothing but fruit. There are even subsets of fruitarians, such as those who eat nothing but bananas. But the bulk of raw food advocates promote dietary variety. 

Do you have to eat 100-percent raw to be on a raw food diet?

Even as some raw foods advocates would say "yes" in answer to that question, nearly all raw food proponents will tell you that any increase in the percent of raw foods in your diet can improve your health. In fact, many who consider themselves “raw foodists” are consuming mostly, but not entirely, raw foods. Many maintain a certain percentage of raw foods in their diets, such as 60 percent or 80 percent.

What are the benefits of eating raw foods?

The primary reason for eating a raw food diet is to ensure that the foods you consume are as close as possible to their natural state, without processing, in hopes of preserving the foods' highest nutritional value. Most raw food proponents also emphasized the value of eating organic produce whenever possible.

While there are some naysayers who question the value of specifically raw fruits and vegetables consumption, there is one undeniable benefit to the average raw food diet – that by making your primary dietary sources plant-based foods, you will be eating foods that are of the richest nutritional value, in terms of essential vitamins and minerals. Whether cooked or raw, just about any vegetable will benefit your health more than the highly processed foods that are common in the American diet, such as snack chips, pastries, or sugary desserts.

In many cases, the value of eating a primarily plant-based diet is as much about the harmful things you're not getting as the good things that you are getting. For example, on a raw food plant-based diet, you will naturally be consuming less saturated fat, less processed sugar, no trans fats, no artificial preservatives, less sodium, and fewer chemical byproducts. As well, managing your weight and insulin levels is much easier on a raw food diet due not only to the lesser amounts of sugar but also due to the higher amounts of fiber.  Those who switch to a raw food diet usually also benefit from healthier cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels.

One key advantage of eating raw is to ensure that the living elements of food, such as phytonutrients and enzymes, are still alive.  Cooking kills the healthy living elements of fruits and vegetables.  Cooking can reduce the nutritional value of your foods since heat kills off many phytonutrients.  Water-soluble vitamins in particular are affected by the heat, as are omega-3 fatty acids.  Fiber content can also be reduced by heating.

For example, a study on the effect of  heating of cocoa beans found that the standard higher temperatures used to roast cocoa beans causes a loss of valuable flavonoids. The unprocessed beans were also found to be richer in the natural cacao flavor.

The flavor and aroma of many fruits and vegetables are blunted by cooking.  And you don't need a scientific study to determine this:
  • Inhale the scent of a vine ripened, fresh tomato. Taste it. 
  • Now, take a whiff of canned stewed tomatoes and try a bite. 
Is there any comparison? To a blindfolded taste tester who had never eaten either, would it even be perceived as the same vegetable? Likely not.

Raw food

Research supporting raw food health benefits
If you have ever tried a raw food diet, or if you know someone who has, you likely have experienced or witnessed some of the benefits commonly touted by raw foodists, such as reduced susceptibility to illness, higher levels of energy, greater alertness, healthy weight loss, and improved skin tone.  But is there any scientific proof to support these claims?  Yes. Let's take a look at some of those.
  • The Journal of Nutrition published results of a fascinating study involving more than 1300 subjects that demonstrated that long-term consumption of a raw food diet "remarkably lowers" LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, and positively affected HDL levels – the good cholesterol. Participants were all consuming between 70 and 100 percent raw foods throughout the study.
  • In research spearheaded by Doctor Luigi Fontana, raw food dieters were found to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and higher levels of vitamin D and, consequently, a potentially lesser risk of breast cancer or prostate cancer.
  • In a 2008 German study, results showed that a long-term strict raw food diet results in a positive plasma beta-carotene concentrations, indicating a reduced risk of chronic diseases. The scientists believe that these positive levels are likely the result of the healthy fat contents found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oil that are common to a raw food diet.
  • In a two-year long 2006 raw food study, involving 500 female participants, results showed significant improvement in menstrual cycles, a reduction in stress levels, and an improvement in skin condition, including oiliness, dryness, eczema, and skin eruptions when consuming a raw food diet. Participants also experienced a decrease in the amount of sleep required in order to feel rested.   Sleep quality also improved; participants reporting no insomnia rose from 40 percent to 59 percent after transitioning to a raw, live foods diet.
You can find more positive raw food research and raw food study results here, including research regarding aging, as well as smoking and alcohol cessation. 

In a follow-up report coming soon, we will look at raw food dieting risks and downsides, and – in case you want to try it – how to get started with a raw food diet.  Meanwhile, please consider that no substantial change in diet should be undertaken without first consulting with your doctor.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, January 24, 2014

Can I exercise with a cold?

Here you are, doing your best to stay true to your New Year’s resolution to exercise, when –WHAM! – a head cold strikes.  You don’t feel well, but you don’t want to lose the momentum of your exercise routine. Should you go ahead and stick with your workout plans, or is rest the better thing to do?

Research suggests that the answer isn’t a straightforward yes, but yes nonetheless. As long as you take a few yes-buts to heart, chances are that you can still exercise with a head cold without negative effects, and may even benefit from it.  Here’s the scoop.

box of tissues

Prevention first: exercise reduces illnesses

To avoid getting that cold in the first place, exercise regularly. Several different studies have shown that you can boost your immune system and thus reduce the number of colds you get by exercising.

According to one study, regular exercise increases illness-fighting immune cells between 50 and 300 percent. Other research shows that performing moderately intense exercise regularly will specifically reduce how many colds you will get. Another study showed that the female test subjects got fewer colds when they regularly performed moderate-intensity exercise.

No bones about it – your odds of staying healthy improve with regular exercise. The one caveat with this – When your exercise falls into the category of "too much" or "too intense," you may actually increase the likelihood of getting a cold. When you are under any kind of stress, your immune system is negatively affected. Studies have shown that athletes who perform vigorous exercise – a physical stress to the body – without taking any down time for recovery increase their susceptibility to colds and flus.  The intense, prolonged exercise can lower white blood cell count, suppressing immunity and increasing the likelihood of upper respiratory infection.

When is it okay to exercise while sick?

Some exercise experts recommend that you continue your exercise routine even if you are sick with a head cold. Their research showed that:
  • Test subjects with a cold virus had no reduced lung function, metabolic responses, or exercise capacity compared to those with no cold virus.
  • Test subjects with colds who exercised experienced no increase in their cold symptoms compared to test subjects with colds who rested.
  • In some cases, test subjects felt better as a result of exercising.
Some experts theorize that, because exercise boosts immunity, you may actually recover from a cold faster by exercising. Experts also point out that you may experience longer term health repercussions by shelving a fragile exercise regimen because of a cold; stopping the routine may actually signal the end of your workout routine.

running in winter

There are however important caveats or exceptions to the rule of exercising with a cold:
  • Listen to your body!
    When exercising with cold symptoms makes you feel worse, reduce the intensity of your exercise or give it a rest altogether. 
  • Head colds only!
    If your cold symptoms are above the neck, such as sneezing, minor sore throat, or runny nose, it's probably okay. But if your symptoms include chest congestion, fever, or body aches, you may actually have a more serious chest cold or even pneumonia. Plus, the kinds of viruses that bring on chest cold symptoms can engender heart muscle inflammation, also known as myocarditis – a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Don't exercise with a fever!
    Exercise will raise your body temperature. So does having a fever. The high body temperature from combining exercise with a fever can negatively affect coordination and balance, increasing risk of injury and potentially leading to more serious medical conditions, such as heat stroke, pneumonia, or heart damage. Read more on this.
  • Stop immediately with any of these symptoms!
    If you experience shortness of breath, increased congestion, increased wheezing or coughing, dizziness, balance problems, chest pressure or tightness, or difficulty breathing, stop immediately and see a doctor.
  • Be cautious with cold medications!
    Certain decongestants increase your heart rate, as does exercise itself. Doing both can over-stress your heart.
  • See a doctor if you have health issues! All the research implying that you can go ahead and exercise with a cold assumes you are of normal or optimal health. If you have any existing health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart issues, or obesity, then your body may not be able to handle the combined strain of a suppressed immune system with continuing exercise. See your doctor before combining the two.
To summarize, when your symptoms are limited to typical head cold problems, and you have normal health, continuing to exercise will likely do you no harm and may even help you get over your cold. But for all other types of cold symptoms, give your body a break – let it rest until your symptoms go away. Even when you start back up, go easy at first. Your body will tell you if you are not actually ready to return to exercise, if you give it a chance.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cut Your Winter Energy Costs

If you and your family reside in a region that experiences the colder winter months, you recognize the enjoyment winter weather can bring. In addition to snow activities such as snowball fights and building snowmen, you can participate in winter sports such as skiing and ice-skating. But, along with the fun winter activities comes the high cost of winter energy bills. Read on for tips on saving money and energy for your home this winter.

house in the winter

How to save money on heating:

  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lower your thermostat at least 10 degrees for eight hours.  Some families choose to drop the temperature in the house during the day, when most family members are out of the house. Another option is to drop it at night, and stay warm by bundling up with more blankets.
  • Adjust your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Seal gaps around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and where pipes come into your home. Insulate attic doors, too. Doors or windows that you won’t use during the winter months can be sealed with plastic in the fall until the warmer spring months.
  • Replace your furnace’s filter regularly for greater efficiency.
  • Keep the humidity in your home at approximately 40 percent. Moist air feels warmer, which helps save energy.
  • Set ceiling fan blades in your home to rotate in reverse. Running fans in this manner pushes warm air near the ceiling down towards the floor where it’s more useful.
  • Utilize your fireplace more. Some experts advise against using your fireplace, citing that the warm air generated merely goes out the chimney. But, check out this link for tips on greater efficiency.
  • Insulate pipes.

How to save on electricity:

  • Turn off lights in unused rooms or utilize a timer.
  • Use major appliances such as your stove, dishwasher, and clothes washer and dryer after 9 p.m.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics and appliances when they’re not in use.
  • If you have a smart phone, consider a system that will allow you to monitor your energy use at home through your phone.

woman with warm clothes

Additional tips on saving money at home:

  • Dress warmer. Wear sweaters, extra socks, and layer clothing during the day; get out the flannel pajamas for you and your family to wear to bed. Use extra or heavier blankets on beds to keep warm while sleeping.
  • Take advantage of the sun. During daylight hours, open shades, blinds, and curtains and allow the sunlight to naturally heat your home.
  • Consider an energy assessment. This will alert you of any potential problems with your home systems and can also provide money saving options.
  • Enlist the help of your family. Teaching your children the importance of conserving energy and saving money is a great lesson at any age. By making your entire family part of the process, you’re more likely to be successful in your energy saving efforts.

Where to go for additional information:

Visit for more information and money saving tips on conserving energy and saving money this winter.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer