By Rhonda Repinski, ANP-BC
Ministry Medical Group
Outdoor activities are a great way to get some fresh air and exercise during our long winter months. Following some safety tips can help minimize your risk of injury while still enjoying cold weather activities.
Before participating in winter sports such as skiing, skating, hockey or sledding, you should do a short warm up. Cold muscles are more likely to become injured. This warm up should consist of some light exercises and gentle stretching. Each stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds. Before, during and after your activity, you should drink plenty of water.
You should also wear protective gear including goggles, helmet, gloves and padding. In addition, wear several layers of light, loose and water resistant clothing. This allows you to accommodate your body’s changing temperature. Proper footwear that provides warmth and dryness is also very important.
When exposed to cold temperatures for extended periods of time, your body can lose heat faster than it can be produced. Hypothermia affects the brain and is a condition of abnormally low body temperature. It can cause unclear thinking and may inhibit body movement. Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heating and people who remain outdoors for extended periods of time are some of the most common victims of hypothermia.
Frostbite is a seasonal concern for those who live in a cold environment. Frostbite is an injury to the body due to freezing and causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes.
Frostbite can permanently damage the body; severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and those who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures. Frostbite and hypothermia often go hand-in-hand and should be evaluated by a healthcare clinician right away. Taking preventive action is your best defense against extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing your home and car in advance for winter emergencies, and by observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, you can reduce the risk of weather related problems.
Many slips, trips and falls outdoors occur during the winter months from November through February.
A simple way to avoid this is to tread safely and walk like a penguin to prevent snow and ice related injuries. Walk flat footed and take short steps; wear footwear that provides traction; step down, not out from curbs; use your arms for balance and carry only what you can to make it easier to navigate.
It is also important tip to become familiar with your surroundings. Know the whereabouts of possible obstacles such as rocks, fences, trees or icy patches. Stay on marked trails and avoid steep hills. In addition, pay attention to the weather forecast and warnings about upcoming storms or drops in temperatures that can have an impact on conditions.
Snow shoveling, although not a sport can also be a great form of exercise but it comes with some safety concerns. Snow removal is one of the most common causes of back injuries during the winter months. Improper body mechanics can cause painful muscle sprains, strains or worse.
There are, however, ways to help prevent such injuries. Invest in an ergonomic shovel. This is a shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length and will help reduce the amount of stress you put on your back. You should also use proper lifting techniques. Always bend at the hips and lift with your leg muscles, not your back. Do not try to lift loads that are too heavy for you. Whenever possible, use a snow blower instead of a shovel. Use the power of your legs to propel the machine forward, keeping your back upright and knees slightly bent.
Exercise and fresh air are great ways to stay healthy. By following some simple safety tips, we can enjoy our Wisconsin winters.