STAYING HEALTHY WHEN IT’S DARK AND COLD
Each year, between 5 and 20 percent of the American population will contract influenza—“flu,” in the vulgar tongue. That’s between 16 million and 65 million people. Typically, between 12,000 and 56,000 Americans die each year from the disease. In 2018, we lost 172 children. Flu is just bad.
The viral upper-respiratory infection (“head cold” is the pedestrian term) causes 20 million lost workdays and 22 million lost school days per annum in America. Head colds are the greatest single threat to productivity in the country. The average American adult endures from two to four head colds in a year. Kids usually catch six to eight owing to their immature immune systems and potentially greater exposures.
A SINGLE HUMAN COUGH EXPELS ABOUT 1.5 LITERS OF AIR AND LAUNCHES ABOUT 3,000 VIRUS-LADEN DROPLETS INTO THE SURROUNDING AREA.
A viral respiratory tract infection will typically run its course in seven to eleven days, but the misery it entails can make the time seem much longer. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics in the treatment of viral respiratory tract infections is one of the greatest contributors to the scourge of antibiotic resistance in the developed world.
General fitness is a major factor in any stressful environment, and keeping in shape will make you more resistant to both infectious illness and temperature extremes.
Depending upon your location, winter can involve long periods of monotony indoors when it is frigid outside. During times such as these, depression and alcoholism can become more prevalent. Paying attention to your emotional, mental and spiritual health can be a critical component of survival, particularly in the winter season. It doesn’t take a highly developed imagination to see how the stress from a winter survival situation could have a profound impact on the health of those enduring such a scenario.
1.0 INFECTIOUS DISEASES
Colds and flu propagate in the winter season because people tend to congregate indoors and in close quarters when it is inhospitable outside. A few basic protective measures can substantially decrease your risk of getting sick. If you do become ill, rest and aggressive hydration can speed recovery.
1.1 Mind Your Hands
1.1.1 Most respiratory tract infections are transmitted via aerosolized droplets passed while coughing or sneezing. A single human cough expels about 1.5 liters of air and launches about 3,000 virus-laden droplets into the surrounding area. These droplets typically launch at around 50 miles per hour.
1.1.2 A sneeze is massively worse, launching more than 12 times the number of droplets at four times the speed. A typical droplet is invisible to the unaided eye and about the width of a human hair. Each droplet can carry up to 60,000 infectious virus particles. On exposed paper, these viral particles can remain viable for hours. On steel or plastic, they can be potent for days!
1.1.3 Protective measures include coughing into your elbow if you are sick, as well as compulsive hand washing. I swim in this stuff every day at work and only get sick about twice a year. However, I wash my hands between each patient and discipline myself to never touch my face. If you are traveling via public transportation systems, you might want to consider a surgical mask. They look stupid, but they are not nearly as lame as hacking up your toenails with the flu.
TYPICALLY, BETWEEN 12,000 AND 56,000 AMERICANS DIE EACH YEAR FROM [INFLUENZA].
1.1.4 Pandemics are real, and things are not nearly as tidy as they might be depicted in the movies. Ebola can ride on an airplane and jump from the African Bush to the American heartland in a day. It passes as readily as a stomach virus and has up to a 90 percent kill rate. Maintain the means to stay at home for a week or two otherwise unsupported if the world really goes sideways. A stocked pantry and a proper water filter can bring great peace of mind. Stockpile items your family will actually eat, and rotate your stock to keep everything fresh.
2.0 PHYSICAL FITNESS
It can seem tougher to stay in shape when cooped up inside, but this is not necessarily the case. When I lived in the Alaskan interior, the locals looked forward to the bitter cold as an opportunity to play outside without the summer crowds. Proper clothing and gear can help you thrive when it is frigid outside.
2.1 It’s All About Attitude
2.1.1 According to the National Institutes of Health, exercise comes in four broad “flavors.” Endurance or aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and breathing to make it easier to execute daily activities. Strength exercises make your muscles stronger, allowing you to manage heavier loads. Flexibility exercises give you more freedom of movement and can help alleviate arthritis pain. Balance exercises enhance coordination and minimize the risk of falls.
2.1.2 A treadmill is not terribly expensive and typically folds out of the way when not in use. A stationary bike is easier on your knees. A modest set of free weights stores underneath a bed and can be used any time. However, exercise equipment is simply clutter if you lack the will to use it.
2.1.3 Don’t fill your dead time with food. If it tastes good, it is bad for you. Minimize the bad stuff and maximize the good stuff. Whatever your diet, be sure to eat in moderation, particularly during periods of limited exercise. The caveat is that strenuous exercise outside in the cold will burn calories at a substantially higher rate than might be the case in summer. Plan to consume more food if your mission involves vigorous work in a cold environment.
3.0 MENTAL FITNESS
Dead time indoors needs to be filled with something productive. Board games, crafts, books, quality magazines (such as American Survival Guide) and hobbies can help keep your mental faculties sharp. Be on the alert against depression when it’s dark outside and recreational options are limited.
3.1 Do Things as a Family
3.1.1 Board games work independently of the power grid, and a decent portable light lets you keep playing, even in the dark. Choose your pursuits to accommodate all ages seated around the table. Silly kids’ games are frequently sufficiently comical to keep older children and grownups occupied, as long as they have a proper attitude. Building models, working on crafts or puzzles can help keep your family’s brains distracted and ﬁt.
3.2 Avoid the Obvious
3.2.1 Electronic entertainment and social media can be easy ways to pass the time, but they are typically fairly passive pursuits. Reading is a more intellectually stimulating undertaking. Exercise your mind as you might exercise your body.
3.3 Depression Kills
3.3.1 Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America, claiming almost 45,000 victims each year. One attempt in 25 is successful, and suicide costs us $69 billion annually. The cardinal symptoms of depression include sleep problems (too much or too little), crying spells, emotional lability (kicking the dog when the dog doesn’t deserve to be kicked) and lack of interest in previously pleasurable pursuits. Being cooped up inside when it is dark outside makes the problem worse. Plenty of positive human interaction helps. Seek medical advice if the symptoms become severe or if you develop self-destructive thoughts. A local house of worship can offer emotional and spiritual support, as well as encouragement, friendship and counseling, if needed. Pets are great company, but you need to ponder the logistics seriously, particularly in severe climates.
4.0 COLD CAN KILL
Cold weather can be exceptionally dangerous. A flat tire on a rural road that might be an inconvenience in the summertime can be deadly at -40 degrees (F). Maintain adequate survival gear in your vehicle and dress for the weather. Additionally, bad people seem just as willing to foment mischief in the winter as might be the case in other seasons.
4.1 Freezing to Death
4.1.1 I once nearly froze to death in Alaska in the winter. It was deceptively peaceful toward the end. Violent shivering is a primal survival mechanism and should alert you of dangerous things to come. Monitor your body and guard against cold injury and excessive heat loss.
THE SCALP IS EXTREMELY VASCULAR. THIS MEANS IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT TO INSULATE YOUR DOME WHEN OPERATING OUTDOORS IN FRIGID TEMPERATURES.
4.2 Put on a Hat!
4.2.1 The human animal hemorrhages a great deal of heat through its head. The scalp is extremely vascular. This means it is critically important to insulate your dome when operating outdoors in frigid temperatures. Displaying your flowing locks when it is crazy cold might look cool, but bundling up with a proper head covering can help keep you comfortable and alive.
5.0 THE WORLD IS STILL A DANGEROUS PLACE
Islamic terrorists are down, but not out, and we are never more than one headline away from war. We all want to see North Korea grow up and “play nice,” but Kim Jong Un wouldn’t know sanity if it bit him. Additionally, the Iranians are as crazy as a bucket of snakes. The only thing that has kept them from unleashing WMD (weapons of mass destruction) on U.S. soil has been that they lacked the means.
5.1 Be Mindful of the World Around You
5.1.1 Prevailing winds drive your weather— and, by extension, things such as fallout and chemical weapons distribution. Invest a little forethought in visualizing what is upwind of you. If it is limitless Midwestern grassland, you are probably fine. If it is a major population center or critical military installation, you might want to invest in a protective mask … or three. I’ve used mine when I had to sand down the kitchen cabinets or remove a long dead critter from my rural farm, so chances are, you already have a need for one.
ISLAMIC TERRORISTS ARE DOWN, BUT NOT OUT, AND WE ARE NEVER MORE THAN ONE HEADLINE AWAY FROM WAR.
5.2 The real heavy hitters in the WMD world are unspeakably nasty in any climate. Defense against chemical and biological agents, as well as radioactive contamination, involves preventing it from gaining entry to, or settling upon, your body. A little bit goes a long way in the world of nerve agents and radioactive fallout. Threats run the gamut. For instance, the half-life of iodine-131 is only eight days. However, the half-life of thorium-232 is 14 billion years! At the end of the day, you just don’t want to get any of that stuff on you.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Prepper Fall, 2018 print issue of American Survival Guide.