For many people, winter is their least favorite season. And it’s not hard to see why: the cold weather, lack of plant life, snow and ice hazards, and lack of sunshine all add up to a dark and dreary couple of months. But it’s not all bad, there are winter sports which use the snow for fun and exercise, and many unpleasantness caused by the low temperatures can be avoided by bundling up to beat the cold and spending time with loved ones. Whether you love or hate the season, the cold weather it brings can put you at risk for hypothermia and frostbite, two very serious conditions which can quickly cause permanent damage or death to the body. Here’s some ways to get the most out of the season while staying safe.
The most important way to keep yourself safe from the cold is by dressing warmly because when exposed to cold weather our bodies will steadily lose heat. The head, face, hands, and feet all lose warmth the fastest which puts them at the most risk for frostbite. In addition, having any of them exposed will lower your core body temperature faster. Hypothermia sets in when your internal body temperature goes below 95° F.
Hats protect the top of the head and ears from heat loss, while scarves and face masks can protect the face. Gloves are essential to protecting your hands, and mittens made from wool or other thick insulated materials work the best. If you’re going to be handling snow, the warmth from your body can melt snow on the gloves and get some glove materials wet. Any form of wet clothing needs to be removed as soon as possible, as wet clothes will quickly become cold and start leeching even more heat from your skin than the dry air does alone. Waterproof gloves are the best option if you’re going to be holding or working with snow.
Thick wool socks, layers of socks, and sturdy waterproof boots are needed to protect your feet. Boots that can get wet, and through them let the socks get wet, are just as dangerous as wet gloves and can quickly lead to frostbite in the toes or hypothermia. Dressing in layers as a whole is important, lose fitting, warm clothes worn in layers will prevent the most loss of warmth and allow you to be the safest while outdoors. Layers of clothing will trap heat between them, so the heat your body gives off will stay near the body instead of dissipating into the cold air, keeping you from becoming cold. Layered gloves and socks also improve your ability to maintain your body heat.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine when you’re going to be outside for any extended period of time. Alcohol decreases your sensitivity to cold, making it harder for you to notice exactly how cold it is and you are. When you are unaware of how cold you are you are more likely to not dress warm enough and stay out too long. This makes you more at risk of developing hypothermia. Caffeine causes your body to loss heat more quickly, meaning you may develop hypothermia or frostbite faster than you normally would.
Now that you know the best ways to keep warm, you can protect yourself against the biggest winter health risks. But hypothermia and frostbite are not the only things that can happen, injury, dehydration, and heart attacks need to be prepared for too. Be wary of ice, which is not always easy to see, and is still dangerous when you can see it. Ice can make all forms of travel dangerous, even walking. When you are aware of the ice it is easier to try and keep from slipping, but avoiding ice as much as possible and using rock salt and sand to melt ice and return traction to the ground will protect you the most.
If you have to shovel, be careful of falling or slipping on ice or snow. Go slowly, as trying the rush through the process will just increase your risk of injury and increase the amount of energy needed to finish. Dehydration can occur quickly in the dry winter air, so it is important to take frequent breaks and drink water or healthy sugary drinks which will hydrate your body and give it energy. The best kind of shovel to use is one that is small and allows you to push the snow. The dangers of straining your body while shoveling come from the weight of snow and repeated lifting and moving motions. A smaller shovel will force you to move smaller amounts of snow at a time, decreasing the weight. And pushing the snow instead of lifting will greatly decrease the amount of energy needed for the task. If you must lift the snow, do so with small loads and lift with your legs. Walk to where you want to dump the snow, never throw it over your shoulder or to the sides as this repeated twisting motion can cause stress to the back.
Before going outdoors, warm up your muscles by walking around, doing lunges, pumping the arms, or other warm up stretches. This will boost circulation and warm up the body, increasing blood flow to keep the body warm once you go outdoors. Cold weather puts extra strain on the heart. So strenuous outdoor activity is not recommended for anyone with heart problems or other health risks.
Being prepared is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones, keep extra food and water stores in case you become snowed in or lose power. The more prepared you are for the weather the better you will be able to handle whatever is thrown at you and make the best of the season.
By Samantha Dillon, DR Vitamin Solutions