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How to stay warm in frigid weather

Feb. 7, 2007

KALAMAZOO--With temperatures expected to remain well below freezing for at least another week, Sindecuse Health Center at Western Michigan University is offering advice on dressing appropriately, diet and other habits to remain warm.

Ditch the fashion statement in favor of comfort, health and safety. Even if you work in an office, drive to work and spend only a few minutes outdoors, it makes good sense to dress appropriately in arctic weather conditions. Just the 10 minutes it may take to warm your car and chip the ice off the windshield is enough exposure to induce frostbite.

Dress appropriate to the conditions

Always cover your head, ears and hands when outdoors in sub-freezing weather. Wear a hat or knit cap that fully covers your head, insulated gloves and a scarf. An uncovered head accounts for up to 70 percent of body heat loss.

Layer clothing to prevent chilling and overheating. Three or four relatively light layers are better than one or two thick layers. Outer layers should be loose-fitting, windproof and water-resistant. Remove layers indoors to avoid overheating. Perspiration wets skin and clothing, and water conducts heat away from the body about 30 times faster than air at the same temperature.

Proper footwear is extremely important. Frostbite most frequently occurs in the extremities--fingers and toes. Wear socks and "sensible shoes," such as insulated walking shoes or boots, with rubber soles for best footing on icy walks. No high heels!

Adjust diet and other habits

Eat regular meals and frequent snacks, and drink regular amounts of water, juice and other fluids. Food fuels metabolism and creates body heat. Fluids are essential to digestion and to avoid dehydration in very dry winter air.

Avoid alcohol, because it lowers blood sugar levels, increases heat loss by dilating small blood vessels in the skin and interferes with judgment.

Avoid tobacco, because nicotine constricts small blood vessels in the hands and feet, predisposing them to frostbite.

Media contact: Thom Myers, (269) 387-8400, thom.myers@wmich.edu

WMU News
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