Cold weather can bring out the couch potato in all of us. Fight back with our seven tips for a safe, active winter season, guaranteed to get you thrillin’ to the chillin’. Snowball fight, anyone?
1. Winter warm ups. A smart winter exercise routine can help keep the winter blues at bay. But first a caution: the cold can aggravate certain medical conditions, such as asthma, Raynaud’s disease, arthritis and heart issues, so be sure to check with your doctor before starting your winter workouts. Once you’ve got the all-clear, make sure you warm up properly, stay hydrated, avoid icy areas, dress in reflective clothing and stick to well-lit areas if you’ll be heading out when the sun’s gone to bed, and watch the weather. Rain and cold is a body-numbing combo and wind chill can be dangerous. Know the signs of frostbite (numbness and stinging, usually on exposed areas) and hypothermia (intense shivering, slurred speech and loss of coordination) and get help immediately.
2. Dress for success. They say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad wardrobe choices. The key to winter comfort is to dress in layers. Put moisture-wicking material next to your skin (avoid cotton), wear an insulating layer in the middle and a wind- and waterproof (but breathable) layer on the outside. Wear a hat, mitts, warm socks and insulated, waterproof boots. Wool is a cold weather classic, but there are some amazing high tech synthetic fibres available today that are worth checking out. If you’ll be working up a sweat, remove and add layers according to the intensity of exercise and consider wearing a face mask or scarf to warm the air up before you gulp it down.
3. For furry friends. Don’t forget Fido and Fluffy when the mercury plummets, particularly if your pet is young, old or short-haired. A good guideline is to keep your animals inside except for exercise. If your dog or cat is a diehard outdoor enthusiast, keep its winter furnace stoked by upping its food intake. Wipe salt and other snow melting chemicals from your pet’s feet and check pads frequently for cracks or bleeding. Never leave your pet in the car—it quickly becomes a refrigerator. And a last tip: most antifreeze has a sweet taste that attracts animals, so take extra precautions with any spills. Even better, switch to antifreeze made from propylene glycol, which is safer for both pets and wildlife.
4. Take a load off. Don’t let snow shoveling turn into a pain in the back (or worse—a heart attack). Warm up before you head out, dress in layers, use a lightweight shovel and pace yourself. Try to push the snow rather than lift it. And don’t procrastinate—according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, the best approach is to shovel early and shovel often.
5. Fun in the sun. Slather on the sunscreen before heading outside for some winter fun, especially if there’s snow, since the white stuff reflects up to 80 per cent of the sun’s rays giving you a double dose of UV. And don’t forget UV rays are even more damaging at high altitudes.
6. Go for a glide. Slip on a pair of skates and feel the freedom—and love the workout (you’ll burn around 500 calories per hour). Wear layers, warm socks (but make sure your skates aren’t too tight) and a properly fitting hockey helmet. Be sure the ice is at least four inches thick—more if there are a number of skaters. Some municipalities offer ice safety updates during the skating season. If you do fall through the ice, you’ve got about 10 minutes before hypothermia causes your arms and legs to go numb and play dumb. Don’t panic, kick yourself to the ice edge and ease yourself out of the water, being careful to stay as flat as possible as you slide yourself onto the ice.
7. Look on the bright side. Shorter days, grey skies and colder weather can bring on the blues for as many as 15 per cent of Canadians. The most severe form, called seasonal affective disorder (fittingly shortened to SAD), affects up to three per cent of the population. Symptoms can include extreme fatigue, a feeling of hopelessness, craving carbs, weight gain and difficulty concentrating. Tips to cope include regular exercise, socializing and getting outside on a sunny day (don’t forget the sun screen!). Treatments include phototherapy (sitting close to a special light box), medication and counselling. Diagnosis is by a family doctor or psychologist. Early intervention will be most successful, so don’t wait to get help.
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