The sun is shining, a sweet breeze is blowing, nature blossoms all around… It’s spring! Okay, maybe if you can’t stop sniffling and sneezing you don’t need any reminders. For many of us, myself included, spring is allergy season; for some it’s a gloomy time of the year despite the vibrant surroundings; and still others worry about the extra pounds hidden under winter clothes and the upcoming bikini season. Spring, the rebirth of nature, is a new opportunity to bloom! And how better to start than with a seasonal health checkup?
While pollen counts also spike in fall or summer, spring is probably the worst season for allergy sufferers. Trees, grass and weeds are responsible for spring’s hay fever—small pollen grains are carried by the wind and, when inhaled by an allergic person, lead to an overreaction of the immune system. The chemicals released cause congestion, sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes, among other symptoms. In some cases, allergic rhinitis can progress to other conditions, such as asthma.
But there is no need to suffer from these symptoms. If you find yourself sneezing in spring, and suspect you may have hay fever, an allergist can confirm the diagnosis and treat it accordingly. And what about your kids? When this condition is diagnosed in one parent, the children have approximately a 25% chance of developing an allergy. When both parents are allergic to pollen, their offspring are over 50% more likely to have hay fever. Don’t forget to monitor them during pollen season, because what you think is another cold may be a seasonal allergy. And keep in mind allergies can develop at any age.
In stark contrast with their blooming surroundings, some women feel a form of depression know as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) probably linked to our circadian rhythms. More common in the fall and winter, for others this starts every year in spring and lasts into the summer. Women are more likely to suffer this disorder than men and it usually affects them at a young age. Children are also vulnerable to SAD, which can cause irritability, sleepiness and even problems at school. Seasonal disorders in adults can become a debilitating condition and interfere with professional and personal life.
Symptoms of springtime SAD are slightly different from the winter depression, according to Mayo Clinic, and include: anxiety, trouble sleeping, irritability, agitation, weight loss, poor appetite and decreased sex drive. While diagnosing this condition is tricky, if you have been experiencing these symptoms in spring for at least two consecutive years, don’t dismiss them as a “seasonal adjustment” and seek professional help. Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant and will probably recommend a nutritious diet and some physical exercise to help relieve stress and promote mental and physical well-being.
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SPRING BODY & MIND
We can all benefit from a balanced diet and a little more exercise, especially if, like me, you have been cooped up during the colder months. So make the most of this season to achieve a new healthy you! By starting early in the spring, you will allow enough time to reach your goals if you are set on losing some weight. Fortunately, more hours of light, warmer temperatures and appetizing fruits and veggies make it a lot easier!
Spring fruits and vegetables add a lot of variety to our winter diet. You can find these at farmer’s markets or, for a fun activity with your kids, pick them yourself at a local farm. Buying seasonal produce is good for the planet, good for your health and for your pocket! Locally picked fruit is at its peak of nutrition—prices for abundant seasonal produce drop and the environmental impact of long-distance transportation is avoided. Depending on your location, spring fruits and veggies may include: artichokes, asparagus, scallions, leeks, lettuce, peas, sweet onions, fava beans and radishes; apricots, grapefruit, cherries and strawberries.
Take advantage of the spring light to head outdoors and ramp up your physical activity. If you are not exactly in good shape, start slowly. Make it a habit to exercise every day at the same time—you can take your dog for an extra-long walk, volunteer to walk the neighbor’s dog or meet friends for a power walk. By establishing a routine, it will be much easier to stick with it. Plan fun activities for the whole family to get moving on the weekend: go for a bike ride, learn how to in-line skate or join a hiking group. Soaking in some sun (after applying sunscreen) paired with the physical exercise is guaranteed to increase serotonin levels and lift everybody’s mood.