It's Cold Out There: Stay Safe While You Work or Play Outside

A woman shoveling snow.

Whenever you step out of the warmth of your heated home, you are at risk of suffering the ill effects of cold weather. The cold air steals the warmth from your body at every breath, and there’s nothing much you can do about it, especially if you're a DIYer and there's things to be done outdoors.

Shoveling snow is responsible for a large number of wintertime injuries. It is an essential chore, no doubt, and it’s a good exercise as well. We'll use that as an example, but this advice applies whether you're shoveling snow, cleaning the gutters, clearing downed tree limbs, or any other outside task that can't wait until the weather changes.

Warm Up First

Cold muscles are more prone to strains. A period of warm up, flexing your frozen muscles and getting your circulation up, is essential before taking up the shovel. Stretch your back and the hands and legs by doing a few exercises before stepping out.

Get the Right Outfit

Remember to stay safe with head to foot protection. Waterproof boots, warm clothing in several layers, warm headgear and sturdy work mittens are all part of the game. Make sure your boots have good treads to minimize the risk of slipping in the snow. An ergonomically designed shovel would be a great investment as well.

Stop Before You’re Zapped

Shoveling the snow being a seasonal activity, your body needs time to adjust to the extra workload. Take it easy, especially in the initial days. Shovel small amounts at a time, take frequent breaks, and stop well before you are too exhausted.

Don't Get Over Heated

Another way the cold can fool you is to hide the fact that you're working too hard. You'd never put on a parka and go to the gym, but that's essentially what you're doing when you're working out in the cold. Heat exhaustion and heart attacks are frequent snow shoveling complaints.

Stay Hydrated

Thirst may warn you of dehydration when it’s hot, but we rarely feel the need to drink water in winter. The cold can trick you into skipping the water bottle, but your body needs its usual quota of fluids and a bit more.

Remember to Eat

Eating well is important too. Chances are you're trying to finish an unpleasant task as quickly as possible, and stopping for a meal is a corner that's tempting to cut. Remember that your body isn't just performing the task at hand, it's also busy trying to keep warm. Give it the extra fuel it needs to multitask.

Use the Correct Muscles

Snow shoveling need not be a back-breaking work. Literally. Correct posture would ensure that the back is spared of unnecessary strain and damage. Bend the knees, and not your back, and get the sturdy leg muscles to do all the hard work.

Protect the Extremities

Heat loss is particularly high from the extremities including the hands, feet and the head, as they are the most exposed. In freezing weather, frostbite is a real threat. Any discoloration of the fingers and toes signals immediate need of warming up.

Pay Attention to Weather Reports and Warnings

Weather seems to be extremely temperamental in winter. Stay tuned in to local reports and take warnings of blizzards, thin ice etc., seriously. If you notice anything suspicious, such as a crack in the ice, leave the area immediately.

Playing in the Snow

Any sporting activity in the cold season requires you to take the usual precautions against hypothermia and dehydration, but winter sports out in the snow especially carry certain risks that you should avoid. Whether you’re into sledding, ice skating or skiing, it is essential to have the right kind of equipments, including helmets.

Besides that:

Always Have a Companion - Never go out for sporting activities alone. Foul weather keeps people in, leaving the trails deserted. Even small accidents can become fatal if help fails to reach an injured person in time. Have a fully charged mobile phone, GPS device, a compass, and a map on your person at all times.

Avoid Alcohol - Alcohol causes the body to lose heat, and it can accelerate hypothermia and dehydration. It also impairs clear thinking when errors of judgment can cause injury to you and to others engaged in activities like skiing.

Pack a Survival Kit - Have extra sets of warm clothing, blankets, food and water. Your kit should also contain flares, whistle, knife, matches, flashlight, map, and a compass.

There is no reason that you should hide indoors from the winter weather, get out and enjoy it. Just be sure to be smart about it!