Let’s be honest, moving around in the winter can be tough and downright dangerous. We often spend more time indoors to avoid the hazards associated with snow and ice. Alan Faith, a trauma program manager at UnityPoint Health, gives you the knowledge you need to keep your families safe and handle the winter chill like a champ!
There is no specific time period that children or teenagers may remain outdoors in cold temperatures. However, when determining how long to be outside, there are a series of things to consider:
- Appropriate clothing. Cover all exposed skin, wear mittens or gloves (mittens are preferred), insulated and waterproof footwear, stocking hats and/or facemasks.
- Dress in layers. Warm air is trapped in layers and acts as an insulator to retain body heat.
- Wind or moisture. The body loses heat much faster in windy conditions or in wet clothing.
- Activity level. Active kids can tolerate cold temperatures longer than kids who are inactive while outdoors. The body generates heat and remains warm longer when active.
Children are not at a higher risk of hypothermia or frostbite, as long as they’re dressed appropriately. Faith says to pay special attention to ears and keep them covered, as they are at a higher risk for frostbite, due to limited circulation and sensation. Cheeks and noses are also at high risk for frostbite.
“It’s important for children to stay dry, as the body loses heat much faster when the clothing is wet, Faith says. “Also, make sure they go inside when they are cold and take frequent breaks to warmup.”
Many adults turn to indoor exercises to avoid freezing temperatures, however, others brave the weather for winter fitness. Faith says there is no specific temperature that makes outdoor exercise unsafe, but he urges everyone to keep in mind the lower the temperature, the great the risk on your health. Outdoor enthusiasts should take several elements into consideration.
- The temperature. Extremely low temperatures put you at a higher risk of cold injury, even with the appropriate clothing.
- The wind. Windy conditions combined with cold temperatures create hazardous wind chills, making it difficult for the body to retain heat.
- Dry clothing. The presence of moisture increases the rate that the body loses heat.
- Length of exercise time. The longer you are exposed to cold temperatures, the higher the risk for frostbite or hypothermia.
- Pre-existing conditions. Always consult a medical provider if you have any pre-existing medication conditions, such as asthma or respiratory conditions, before exercising outdoors in the cold.
While you can choose to exercise outdoors, shoveling is a necessary evil that often can’t be avoided. Faith suggests the best ways to shovel for those who are charged with clearing the driveway and sidewalks.
- Don’t overexert yourself, take frequent breaks and pace yourself.
- Stop if you develop any pain, including chest pain.
- Use a shovel with a bent handle for better posture and less bending at the waste.
- Push the snow instead of lifting and throwing it.
- Dress appropriately, using layers that can be removed as activity increases.
Seniors are the most susceptible to winter illness and injury. Faith says the elderly may have medical conditions that decrease the body’s response to cold temperatures. They may also be dealing with altered mobility and diminished activity, making them more susceptible to hypothermia.
“The presence of altered sensation also creates conditions that make them more vulnerable to frostbite. The cold temperatures does not put them at higher risk for pneumonia, but the increased amount of time indoors in close contact with other people may increase the risk of contracting pneumonia or influenza,” Faith says.
- The icy weather also brings concerns about slips, trips and falls. Faith gives some advices on how seniors can safely move through the winter season.
- Allow extra time to avoid hazardous hurrying.
- Make sure walkways are clear of snow and ice by spreading salt or sand.
- Avoid carrying heavy bags or purses when walking.
- Ask for help, if needed.
- Wear flat footwear with rubber soles instead of leather-soled shoes.
- In extremely icy conditions, add grippers to the bottom of shoes.
- Take small steps to keep balance centered.
- Make sure to dry shoes on mats or rugs when entering homes, to avoid falling on wet surfaces.
If you have any questions about safety and health in the cold, winter months, make sure to ask your UnityPoint Health primary care provider.