3 Hidden Health Risks of Autumn

From the brilliant color of turning leaves to the enticing aroma of pumpkin muffins, there’s a lot to love about fall. Yet the season brings its share of health challenges as well. Some — such as those bags of mini candy bars that never make it to Halloween — are obvious. Others are a bit sneakier. Below are some often overlooked health risks that should be on your radar.

#1 Football Season

Many football fans spend game day munching on fried wings, pepperoni pizza and nachos. What’s less apparent is that this behavior may carry over to the next day, especially if your team loses.

In one eye-opening study, researchers looked at people’s eating habits in cities across the United States. Then they compared those habits to NFL game results. On the day after a game, people in cities with a losing team consumed 16% more saturated fat than usual. The likely explanation: Sports fans may identify so closely with their teams that they react to a loss much as they would a personal setback. This may trigger unhealthy eating choices in those who use food as a coping mechanism.

To reduce your risk: Start by revamping game day itself. Have some healthier foods — such as air-popped, unbuttered popcorn or grilled, skinless chicken — on hand. If you’ll be watching the game at a sports bar, scope out the menu and plan ahead what you will order. Also, decide in advance how much alcohol, if any, you will drink, and have a strategy for sticking to that amount. Or skip the bar entirely and head to the gym, where you can watch the game while you work up a sweat.

If your team loses, put the disappointment into perspective. The same researchers found a simple but effective way to do this: Take a few minutes to think about what really matters in your everyday life. Then jot down a couple of sentences about why the thing that matters most is so important to you. Chances are, you won’t find yourself writing about a football score.

#2 Leaf Raking

Raking leaves is a handy way to burn calories while tidying up your yard. But piles of damp leaves can harbor mold, a common allergen. Plus, poor raking technique can lead to muscle aches and strains. Believe it or not, more than 38,000 Americans sustained rake-related injuries in 2012, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

To reduce your risk: Talk with your doctor if you have allergy symptoms, such as an itchy nose or mouth; itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; or a runny or stuffy nose. For people with mold allergy, allergists generally recommend letting someone else do the raking.

For the rest of us, the AAOS says these tips help prevent injuries:

  • Warm up first with at least 10 minutes of light exercise and stretching.
  • Use a rake that is a comfortable height and weight for you.
  • Keep your back straight rather than twisting as you rake.
  • Make short strokes with your arms rather than long ones.
  • Bend at your knees, not at your waist, to pick up filled leaf bags. Don’t sling the bags over your shoulder or throw them to the side because the twisting motion can hurt your back.

#3 School Carpools

For many parents, one of the best things about fall is that the kids are back in school. But picking up your child after school often means sitting in a long line of idling school buses and parent SUVs, and breathing all that exhaust is bad for your lungs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), tiny, fine particles in the diesel exhaust from idling buses can lodge in your lungs and cause damage there. People with asthma and other lung and heart conditions are especially sensitive to the harmful effects of these particles. Kids are also at increased risk because their lungs are still developing.

To reduce your risk: Do your bit for cleaner air by turning off your car while you wait. Better yet, walk to school to meet your student, or let your child walk or bike home with friends if it’s safe. Also, ask administrators whether your child’s school has a no-idling policy for parked buses. If not, suggest that they adopt one. The EPA’s Clean School Bus program offers helpful tips and tools.

Bonus tip: Reduce the spread of cold and flu viruses inside your vehicle. Keep tissues and hand sanitizer within easy reach, and encourage their use. Also, clean and disinfect surfaces where germs may lurk, such as the dashboard, armrests, cup holders and car seats.

The Awesome Side of Autumn

Despite a few challenges, fall is often an ideal time for getting healthier. The cooler days are perfect for a vigorous hike or bike ride. The supermarket produce aisles are teeming with nutritious seasonal favorites, such as apples, pears, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and winter squash. Plus, your calendar may be a little emptier in the quiet months between summer vacation and winter holidays. You can put the extra time and energy to good use by making that healthy change you’ve been thinking about.

There is still hope.

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