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Having fun and staying safe in a Minnesota winter

Some might call me crazy, but I love winter in Minnesota. Crisp air, blue skies and if lucky, a blanket of fresh, white snow on the ground—all providing the backdrop for activities like cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling and outdoor hockey. Make no mistake, I plan for my time outside—an effort to avoid hypothermia.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia may include:

  • Shivering     
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate

In order to avoid hypothermia this winter, keep a few things in mind while prepping for your time outside:

Cover up. You lose the most heat from unprotected surfaces of your body, so cover your head, face, neck and hands. Wear loose-fitting, layered and lightweight clothing. Tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection on the outside, while wool, silk or polypropylene hold the most body heat on the inside.  

Stay dry. You can lose heat if you're in direct contact with something very cold, like water or the freezing ground beneath your feet. Water is great at transferring heat, so body heat is lost much faster in cold water than in cold air. Staying dry is essential to protecting yourself in cold weather.

Mind the wind. Wind carries away the thin layer of warm air that rests on the surface of your skin.  This is especially important to remember when sweating. Avoid activities that cause excessive sweating, as it increases the rate of heat loss and the risk of hypothermia.

Reconsider the alcohol. Though it may make you feel warm, drinking alcohol may not be the best idea. By increasing blood flow to the skin, it leads to increased heat loss. This, along with impaired judgment, is a common cause of accidents leading to hypothermia and death.

Eat. Your body needs calories to burn and generate heat. Increase your calorie intake if you plan on participating in prolonged outdoor activities.

Some activities and conditions will greatly increase the risk for hypothermia:

  • Prolonged exposure to cold (aka a Minnesota winter)
  • Immersion in cold water (including sweating)
  • Not moving for long periods of time
  • Age extremes (greater than 65 or children & infants)
  • Dehydration
  • Drugs (alcohol, pain killers & sedatives)

If you think a loved one is experiencing hypothermia:

  • Call 911
  • Move them indoors or somewhere warm, as soon as possible.
  • Once they're in a warm environment, carefully remove any wet clothing and dry them.
  • Wrap them in warm blankets, towels or coats. Protect their head and torso first. 
  • Encourage the person to shiver if they're capable of doing so. Shivering generates heat. 
  • If possible, give the person warm drinks (not alcohol) or high-energy foods, such as chocolate. Only do this if they can swallow normally.
  • Once the person's body temperature has increased, keep them warm and dry.

With the proper knowledge, a Minnesota winter can be a blast! So keep these things in mind, be safe and have fun!


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