So What If It’s Winter – Get Out and Play!

As winter descends with its shorter days, frigid temperatures, ice and snow, the harsher weather conditions shouldn’t be seen as a deterrent to going outdoors. If anything, the winter landscape is beautiful and inviting . . .  as long as you dress properly and take cold-weather precautions to keep you healthy and safe.

Preventing hypothermia is a major concern for those who work or recreate outdoors in the winter months. Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.

Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making us unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

While hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Victims of hypothermia are often older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for prolonged periods, such as the homeless, hikers, hunters, skiers and snowmobilers; and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering and exhaustion; confusion and fumbling hands; memory loss; slurred speech; and drowsiness. If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95° F, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body first, including his or her chest, neck, head and groin, using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds, or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

Dress for the weather

No matter your choice of outdoor activity, take appropriate measures to protect yourself. That includes dressing for the weather, making sure you’re properly hydrated, wearing sunscreen, knowing your limitations, and always respecting Mother Nature.

Dressing in layers and wearing the right types of materials are critical for keeping yourself warm in the cold weather. But when planning your outdoor wardrobe, moisture management is also an important consideration. To keep the body warm during high-energy activities, clothing should transport moisture away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric where it can evaporate.

Cotton is a poor choice for insulation, because it absorbs moisture and loses any insulating value when it gets wet. Instead, moisture-wicking synthetics, which move moisture away from the skin and stay light, are the best choice for active winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, hiking or climbing. Not only do synthetic fabrics wick moisture away from the skin, they dry quickly and help keep you warm in the process.

Your next layer should be a lightweight stretchy insulator, such as a breathable fleece sweater or vest. The final part of your cold-weather wear should be a lightweight and versatile shell jacket. Fabrics like three-layer Gore-Tex and Windstopper allow companies to create shells that are ultra lightweight while remaining waterproof, windproof, and breathable. For aerobic activities, a shell’s ventilating features are particularly important. Look for underarm zippers, venting pockets, and back flaps.

Always bring a hat and gloves, regardless of the weather or your activity level. Proper foot protection is critical, as well — you should be wearing insulated and water-proof shoes or boots, and synthetic socks that won’t absorb sweat. As with the rest of your clothing, synthetic materials work best for protecting you against the extremes. Look for fleece hats made with Windstopper fabric, gloves and mittens layered with Gore-Tex and fleece, and socks made of synthetic, moisture-wicking materials.

Finally, bring an abundance of water or sports drinks when you recreate outdoors, and try to avoid caffeine or alcohol — both actually dry you out, instead of hydrating, and alcohol lowers your body temperature. Also, make sure you have a cell phone, that somebody knows where you are, and when you’ll be returning. And remember to wear sunscreen — the sun’s ultraviolet rays remain potent, even in the winter, and hydrating your skin with a UV-protective moisturizer will help protect you from wind and other elements.

Getting outdoors in the winter months should be part of your healthy-living planning. Exercising or working outdoors, or simply enjoying the winter beauty will help keep you well, emotionally and physically.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!