Winter has arrived for some and is on its way for others in the northern hemisphere. With that there are some considerations to take into account as we head into the season with a drop in temperature and a reduction of sunlight. Here are some reminders pertaining to winter health and safety to help get you through the months ahead.
Being Outdoors in Winter
Invest in footwear that are waterproof and that have sufficient traction and isn’t prone to freezing while walking in the ice and snow. It’s also good to take into account that footwear fits well, not too big as it is a tripping hazard, too tight there could be issues with swelling and diabetes. This can lead itself to foot deformities and altered sensation to the foot. Velcro could be great when arthritic changes are present in the hands and fingers.
Be sure to wear adequate clothing covering extremities of the body. Wear layers with a breathable base layer and loose layers which can allow perspiration to escape the skin surface. Wear a jacket with sufficient warmth and waterproofing. Mittens are warmer than gloves, a hat to cover the ears and a covering for the neck. While walking, do not give into the temptation of placing your hands in your pockets when walking in snow and ice. If you fall with your hands in your pockets, this can increase your chance of sustaining head trauma or a concussion as the hands can get caught when trying to pull the hands out.
If you have balance problems you can use a balance aid or a set of walking poles. Some have different ends including spikes, booties or ferrules which provides flexibility in which environments you can use them for all times of year and a variety of surfaces
Be aware of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia as this is an indication that there is a major drop in your body temperature. Watch for signs of frostbite and frostnip also. White, ashy or grayish-yellow skin with a waxy texture and numbness are all warning signs.
Be sure to invest in an ergonomic shovel, consider the weight, shape, length, handle size and blade when purchasing a snow shovel. Weight will be impacted by the material the shovel is made out of, this will also impact how far from the body the load is from the body, and will impact where the hands are placed on the handle. The length of the shaft can be two fold, longer means less leaning over, shorter means that it can be easier to balance empty. Ideally the shovel should reach the elbow when the blade is placed on the ground, total length plus shaft and handle. Try to get a shovel with the bend or second handle mid-shaft. A smaller blade is ideal to minimize the weight of the material to be lifted. Try to be slow and steady when shoveling snow, take a break every 15 minutes. Rate will be dictated by density of the snow, heavy wet snow will take longer to shovel than light fluffy snow.
Snow shoveling can be very strenuous resulting in stress on the heart and/or back. Warming up prior to shoveling is for the best, doing some gentle movements to gradually increase core body temperature.
Wear sufficient loose layers, proper footwear, long pants, gloves and a jacket. Remember that it is physical activity so you will probably start to sweat while shoveling so dress accordingly. Be sure to work a safe distance from others if others are working at the same time.
If you are pushing snow keep your feet staggered and your knees relaxed as you push the snow toward your pile. When you are shoveling to pick up snow then do the following. Keep your feet wide and slightly staggered, keep the shovel close to the front foot. Transfer your weight forward and use the front leg to push the shovel. Shift the weight onto the back foot once the shovel is full and turn the feet in the direction of the throw, don’t give into the temptation to twist and throw the snow as this can be hard on the back.
Be sure to use de-icing on patches of ice, you may wish to take pets into account when purchasing and go for a paw friendly brand. Ice can form during the thaw freeze cycles that are common with winter in some areas. There are different types of salt, sand and grit that may be used to help provide traction to the walking surface.
Hydration and Balanced Diet
In the winter it's not uncommon to not feel thirsty. Be sure to consume adequate quantities of fluid to remain hydrated. Fluids can take the form of water, teas, broths and cocoa.
Work to get a diverse diet, lots of colours within fruit and vegetables, and sufficient protein. A wide range of vitamins and minerals within your food. With a reduction of sunlight in the winter try to boost vitamin D fortified foods or supplement if needed. Always speak to your doctor or a certified health care professional to meet your specific dietary needs.
Be sure your tires have good tread or swap your tires to winter tires or all-weather tires. Be sure that your car is in good working order, all fluids are topped up and that any maintenance needed has been performed including battery, oil and filter inspection and changes. Be sure to top up your windshield wiper fluid. Ensure that you have an emergency kit in your car including things like booster cables, flashlight, battery powered radio, batteries, blankets, water, foods, up to date first aid kit, and winter clothing. A tool like the BackJoy SitSmart can make getting out of vehicles while wearing bulky layers of winter clothing easier, in addition to increasing comfort on long car rides. Add any other necessities such as a shovel and sand or cat litter to help get your vehicle unstuck. It may be a good idea to check the weather service prior to travel and check road conditions with websites like 511 in Alberta.
Check the batteries in your smoke detector and make sure your carbon dioxide meter is working. Ensure your heating system is working properly, change filters if needed, make sure that there are no obstructions of the ventilation system. Be sure that if you have a fireplace that it is in good working order with the onset of winter. Inspect or install weather stripping around doors and windows as needed to help improve the efficiency in your home. Be sure to make sure your first aid kit is up to date. Have a battery powered flashlight and extra batteries available for if the power goes out. Have a power block or some means to charge a cellphone if there is an emergency. Don’t leave candles or open flames unattended, fires are not uncommon in the winter months.
Feeling Isolated and Low
Try to get as much sunlight as early as you can in the day to help your circadian rhythms. Try to schedule time with friends and family regularly. If you can’t get out try to connect with a phone call or video chat, this is not the same as face-to-face interactions however it is important to interact with others. A blue light in the morning may help if you have SAD, getting regular exercise can help your body produce mood lifting hormones including dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. Speak to your medical professional if you find that you are struggling with seasonal depression.
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