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Published on December 13, 2017

How to Stay Warm (and Safe) in the Cold

How to Stay Warm(and safe) in the Cold

Now that winter is upon us, cold weather is a mainstay. Staying healthy includes knowing how to dress for seasonal activities, like skiing or skating, or even the everyday activities like walking the dog or outdoor work.

Not having the right clothes for cold weather can cause conditions such as hypothermia or frostbite. Hypothermia is a body temperature drop that can affect your heart, organs and nervous system. Frostbite is the freezing of the skin, usually on the extremities, which can cause permanent damage to tissue, muscle and bone.

  • Begin with a base layer. When active in cold weather, your body will perspire. Once the body cools back down, moisture reduces the ability of your clothes to maintain warmth against your skin. Wicking garments, such as synthetic fabrics, silk, or merino wool, keep you warm by keeping moisture away from your skin. 
  • Next comes the mid-layers. This is the substantial clothing worn to keep warm. This may include down jackets, fleece-lined pants or thick wool sweaters. This is the layer that is most often removed as temperatures increase or when you begin athletic activities. Try to have the warmest garment you can with the least amount of bulk so your movement will not be so restricted and you can easily do your outdoor activity.
  • The shell is on top. This outermost layer is what keeps the wind or snow from penetrating your mid-layer. There are two types of shell layers. A hard shell is usually a breathable waterproof membrane, such as Gore-Tex. A soft shell is typically more comfortable, breathable and water resistant as opposed to water proof.
  • Gloves and socks can also be layered. A pair of silk hand or foot liners under a pair of tightly woven wool gloves or socks work the same way that layers on the torso work. Mittens are the most efficient because your fingers can warm each other. Big bulky wool socks may be comfy around the house, but not as effective in a pair of boots outdoors.
  • Keep the head and neck covered. Although it is a myth that the head loses the most heat of any other body part, blood vessels run close to the surface and do lose heat quickly. A basic wool skull cap is usually adequate. The neck loses just as much heat as the head. It is always a good idea to wear a wool or silk scarf or a zip up collar that tightly covers your neck. It may be helpful to use the scarf or collar to cover the nose and mouth to decrease inhalation of cold, dry air.

Dressing correctly for cold weather is important in keeping body temperature regulated. On most winter days, a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt and light jacket won’t be enough when you have to be outdoors for an extended period. Make sure to wear appropriate attire for the activities you choose this winter.

About the Author

Thomas Thekkekandam, MD, ABFM, CAQSM is a Sports Medicine Specialist at Cone Health Primary Care at MedCenter Kernersville.