Winter Wellness: Tips for families to stay active and healthy in the colder months

2014-03-09T06:30:00Z Winter Wellness: Tips for families to stay active and healthy in the colder monthsJane Ammeson Times Correspondent
March 09, 2014 6:30 am  • 

By this point in a long, dreary and very cold winter, we can either burrow even deeper, becoming the ultimate couch potatoes or get out and have some fun. But with temperatures dropping, there’s more to keeping warm than just a coat and gloves.

“Our mantra is layer, layer, layer,” said Sandy Basala, Superintendent of Visitor Services at Lake County Parks. “Often times we see people come out to cross country ski either underdressed or overdressed. Underdressed is thin anklet socks, no hat or gloves. Overdressed reminds me of the little brother in "A Christmas Story" who can’t move. All of our outdoor activities—skiing, sledding and ice skating or even hiking require people to move and be active. The basic concept is simple. Be prepared to adjust to your activity level as you exercise and changes in the weather. Don’t leave home without a warm hat, gloves and the proper winter foot ware. Please, no flip flops.”

Dr. Bernard Heilicser, an emergency room doctor at Ingalls Health System, warned it doesn’t take a long time to get frostbite and hypothermia. So for parents, it’s important not only to bundle up their kids but also to keep close watch on them during this frigid weather.

“An infant or very young child can’t say my hands hurt,” he said. “They’ll just start to shiver and start to cry.”

Basala agreed.

“Parents need to keep an eye on the little ones, because if they are like I was when I was a kid, they’ll stay outside as long as possible without warming up,” she said. “Generally, children lose body heat more quickly than adults and they are also the ones not likely to pay attention to the cold. They’d rather enjoy what they are doing instead of going inside to warm up.”

Thick wool socks, thick down coat, long underwear, insulated snow pants, fleece-lined hat and two pairs of mittens—fleece mittens inside water-resistant mittens are important clothing items for both adults and children said Maddie Grimm, Director of Education for Taltree Arboretum and Gardens in Valparaiso. Grimm recommended mittens instead gloves because they help keep energy circulating between your extremities.

“In really cold winter months when outdoors you burn energy—calories—to stay warm, layering ones clothes is very important to deter illness and frostbite,” she said. “When you are playing outside in colder weather more energy is burned because you’re trying to stay warm, so keeping water on hand as well as a good fat/protein combo snack like trail mix which helps to provide additional energy to produce heat is helpful.”

Safeguard against cold and wet.

“You want to avoid sweating—evaporation is a cooling process,” said Heilicser. “So wear active-wear clothing that will take the perspiration away from the body so it won’t be retained.”

Heilicser also recommended drinking warm fluids to keep your core body temperature warm as well as fluids.

“You still need to hydrate,” he said. “If you’re exercising and are active, you’ll need to replace fluids and electrolytes.”

According to Patricia Kemp, communications manager for the American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you or your children have symptoms of frostbite such as numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration or waxy feeling skin. Also be on guard for indications of hypothermia which include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering.

“If you observe someone who is out in the cold and seems disoriented, they should be brought into the emergency room in order to get their body temperature up,” said Heilicser.

Keeping as little amount of skin exposed to the elements is also another necessity said Heilicser. It’s even more important with young children who can’t keep themselves covered.

“The head, face, ears, hands and feet are generally most vulnerable,” said Basala. “We tell people to make certain they take a break when skating or sledding. If they start to shiver they should get inside and warm up. Both frostbite and hypothermia can occur when the body is exposed to the cold for an extended period of time without proper clothing.”

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