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Cold Weather Safety

5 Tips for Staying Warm When Outdoors In Winter

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Cold temperatures, wind chill, and snow often deter people from enjoying outdoor activities in winter, but cold weather doesn't always have to win out. When the mercury drops, follow these 5 tips to keep you comfortable, warm, and focused on your exercise routine, sporting event, or snowball fight. 

1. Dress Appropriately by Layering Clothing

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Maria Toutoudaki, Getty

The best way to dress for cold weather is to wear multiple layers of clothes. Layering insulates the body by creating several pockets of warm air around it, which helps keep the body's core temperature at it's average 98.6°F. A drop of just 3 degrees can signal the onset of hypothermia  

How to layer clothing:

Layering consists of dressing in up to 3 layers: a base layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer. Here are some material and clothing item suggestions for each:

  • The base layer of clothing is the one that's worn next to your skin. It includes form-fitting clothing (like thermal underwear) that provides warmth and keeps you dry. Clothing made of synthetic materials that wick (move) moisture away from skin are best used for this layer. Avoid wearing cotton when possible, as it absorbs moisture and can trap wetness against your skin, making you colder.
  • The middle layer of clothing is meant to insulate the body by keeping heat in and cold out. Wool, fleece, and polyester sweaters, sweatshirts, pullovers, and long-sleeved tops do this job well.
  • The outer, or shell, layer of clothing includes pants and a jacket or coat. Ideally, this layer should be waterproof, yet breathable.

Depending on how cold it is, and what you'll be doing outside, you can dress in as few or as many layers as you need to. For example, runners may prefer to only wear a base and mid-layer, since they'll be generating a good bit of heat and sweat, whereas a spectator at a football game may wish to don multiple layers to guarantee maximum warmth while sitting several hours in a stadium seat.

2. Stay Dry

Be careful of getting your shoes and outer clothes wet from rain, freezing rain, or snow--especially if they're not water proof or resistant. Once wet, the moisture will evaporate from the clothing's surface, causing it to cool, and you to feel colder.  

Being too warm can also be a bad thing if it makes you sweat. If you find your layers are making you overheat, consider removing a piece of clothing (preferably not from the shell layer).  

3. Accessorize with a Hat, Mittens, and Sunglasses

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Altrendo images, Getty

It's said that as much as 70% of the body's heat is lost through the head. Whether or not you believe this cold weather statistic, one thing is certain--wearing a hat will help keep you warmer...if for no other reason than you'll have less skin exposed to the elements. 

As for the body's extremities--particularly the fingers, toes, and feet--take extra care to keep them warm. They're among the first to experience the effects of frostbite. When it comes to the question of gloves vs. mittens, go with the latter. True, mittens restrict dexterity, but they keep hands warmer since fingers are clustered together.   

And don't forget your eyes! While they aren't necessarily in danger of getting cold, having snow on the ground (if there is any) can actually make the sun's UV rays stronger--so throw on some shades!

4. Keep Hydrated

While you wouldn't think it, dehydration is a real concern during cold weather. Not only does cold air strip our bodies of moisture because it is drier, but winter winds carry moisture away from the skin's surface thanks to evaporation. What's more, people don't naturally feel as thirsty in winter as they do when the weather is hot. 

Drink plenty of water and hot drinks (which offer both hydration and warmth), even if you don't feel thirsty. This will help you stay well hydrated, which makes it easier for you to stay warm. (Being dehydrated makes it harder for the body to concentrate on maintaining a safe core temperature.) One drink you'll want to avoid is alcohol. While a nip or two may give you a "warming" sensation, it won't last for long. The heat you feel on the tip of your skin is heat that's been routed away from the heating of your core, and that sip will in fact leave you with a lower core body temperature.

5. Keep Moving

The more active you are in cold weather, the more heat your body will generate as a result.

If you do plan to sit or stand outside for long periods of time, wiggle your hands and toes every few minutes to keep the blood (and therefore, heat) circulating in these extremities.

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