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Warm Hands, Happy Heart

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the importance of staying active in cold weather, and ways to reinforce habits.  But leave it to my clients to remind me of what I left out of that article:  IT'S STILL COLD OUTSIDE!!!!   So in this entry I'll discuss ways to help you cope better with cold and ice. 


1. Dress for the weather.   

Ditch the cotton, lycra, polyester in favor of wool or silk as a base layer.  These stay warm when damp, so when you sweat it will evaporate.   Staying dry is critical to staying warm. Clothing should be loose around the areas where you sweat the most such as armpits and groin area.


Layer it.  I recommend a middle layer of cotton.  This should fit loosely over the base layer.  Layering traps air which retains body heat while allowing some air to circulate.  This layer of air insulates the body from the cold.   Once you warm up with activity and your body starts generating heat, you can take layers off according to your comfort. 


Think of your feet.  Wool socks are essential for winter hiking.  I don't agree with waterproofing your boots either.  If you're wearing wool socks, your feet will stay warm even when wet, and you want any moisture to be able to evaporate. Unless you're fly fishing or walking through slush or swamp, avoid rubberized boots, even going around town. They have no insulation and will trap your feet's sweat inside, making your feet really cold.  Avoid wearing overly warm shoes or boots indoors as your feet will sweat, dampen the insides and make your feet get cold.   


Watch for heat zappers.  Damp clothing next to the skin will zap body heat.  Certain areas of the body lose heat faster than others.  The areas where blood vessels run closely to the surface are most vulnerable; head, neck, chest, hands, for example.   This should be obvious, but I often see people complaining about the cold when they're wearing a summer top under a jacket with an open collar that does nothing to protect the neck and chest, and nothing covering their head.   Or if your shirt's not tucked in.  Gloves and mittens keep hands warm but you can't really use your hands.  Try fingerless gloves and make sure they're wool. Those nylon/cotton gloves will only zap your heat.  I like a wool headband that doesn't mash my hair down like a hat does, and I prefer coats with a hood I can pull up if needed.  


Pre-warm but not too much.   You want to build heat in that layer of air but not be so bundled up that you start sweating.    


2.  Cold intolerance is a mindset.


To  some extent, cold is relative.  If the temperature is 50 in September we'd say it's "freezing" outside.  But the same temp in January is perceived as almost balmy.   So it's a mindset.  Of course, there is a point where it's dangerously cold for anyone.  A  few years ago we had a cold snap in Ohio where the high temperature one day was 11 below!  I tried to go for a walk and made it to the end of my driveway.  But most of the time, it's merely cold outside.    And that's short lived if you have the right attitude, and if you're dressed properly.  When you're active,  your body generates heat so that you can be shivering when you first step out and 20 minutes later be walking down the trail feeling like it's 70 out.    The hard part is convincing yourself of this when you first stick your head out the door. 


2. Condition for the weather. 

I recommend working out year round but especially in winter, especially if you're older.  Working out will help your circulation and joint flexibility, making you  more tolerant of the cold.  Focused strength and flexibility training will also help you keep your balance better on slippery surfaces and take falls better if you do lose your balance.  A gym membership is also a great way to ensure that you stay active when winter weather isn't so nice. 


3. Coping with the slide..

Staying strong and flexible will help you prevent falls or getting injured from falls.  You can also wear cleats which are widely available.  Or you can go with the slide.  Cross country skiing is a great way to take advantage of the snow, is a low impact workout and, if you've never skied or skated and are afraid of anything that slides or slips or rolls, cross country skiing is a great way to get over that fear with extremely low risk of injury.   You might get so confident you find yourself signing up for adult skating lessons, or ski or snowboard lessons.  And that's when the real fun begins....


4. Find a way to make it fun.   

Take a camera with you and take shots of nature's seasonal beauty.  Try recreating your images later in a painting.   

Go birdwatching.   Winter is a great time of year to learn to track animals and see who lives in your woods.  

Learn to ski, board or skate.   I have something called a snowskate-kind of like a cross between a snowboard and a skateboard.  I take it on sledding hills and with a bag packed with layered clothing, I'm ready for the first measurable snowfall.   

Do an outdoor picnic.  Lucas County metroparks have warming shelters where you can have a warm fire while enjoying the outdoors.  Sidecut park often has a fire going in their large firepit next to the sledding hill.  

Challenge yourself.  Reframe your aversion to cold by making it a challenge for yourself, and something to brag about in front of your friends.  Disclaimer: Don't go overboard here;  if it's 11 below I won't chastise you for staying indoors. When you change your mentality and begin to embrace the cold, you begin to think differently of yourself. 


5. Be mindful of the health benefits. 

Getting outdoors in the winter is a good way to fight depression.  The natural sunlight helps produce melatonin which helps with sleep.  The sun also helps our body produce Vitamin D which is essential for mood regulation as well as healthy bones.  Most light boxes do not provide this benefit and besides that, their use of electricity causes use of electricity which contributes to our climate change crisis.   The cold also keeps out malaria and yellow fever and other dangerous bugs.  The cold season is why we don't have alligators or pythons here in Michigan and Ohio.  The cold air also discourages cold and flu viruses from getting too comfortable in your lungs.   The cold air wakes you up and gets you out of your mental rut.   And at the end of the day, being out in the cold makes coming back indoors that much sweeter. 


It's so important that we take care of ourselves and stay active.  If you can learn how to dress and move with the season and get past that initial chill, winter will provide you with some unique forms of enjoyment and sense of wellbeing. Being able to override the impulse to stay indoors in your fleece pajamas will be rewarded tenfold if you approach winter wisely.

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