Do you worry about staying warm when the temperatures dip? When most people think of health hazards, they think of warm weather dangers like heat stroke and dehydration. But the truth is, cold weather can be just as dangerous. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than twice as many people die from hypothermia each year than from heat exposure. So staying warm is a must if you live in a cold rural area.
For people living in rural areas, where temperatures can plunge below freezing in the winter months, it’s especially important to take steps to stay warm.
Last winter we experienced feel temperatures at -26 degrees and wind chills at -58 degrees one weekend. The prior year we had -30 degrees real feel temperatures for a week. (These temperatures are in Fahrenheit degrees.)
You quickly learn a few things when it is that cold.
- Colder temperatures can lead to health problems like hypothermia and frostbite.
- Staying warm can help you stay comfortable and alert.
- Taking steps to stay warm can help you save money on your heating bill.
- You want to stay warm in case you get stuck outside for a longer period of time in the colder climate.
Here’s a look at some of the ways cold weather can affect your health and what you can do to stay safe this winter.
Staying Warm To Avoid Hypothermia and Frostbite
Two of the most common cold-weather health hazards are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and frostbite occurs when your skin tissue freezes.
Both conditions are extremely dangerous and can even be fatal if not treated immediately.
(This year I’ve heard of one death already and several from falling into ponds where the ice was not yet safe.)
Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, slurred speech, and drowsiness. If you suspect someone has hypothermia, it’s important to get them to a warm place immediately and call for medical help. Symptoms of frostbite include pale or blue skin, numbness or tingling, and waxy-looking skin.
Treatment for frostbite includes gently warming the affected area with warm water or a heating pad set on low heat. Never use direct heat (like a furnace) or put the affected area directly in front of a fire because that can cause further damage.
If you have severe frostbite, seek medical attention right away.
Image courtesy of weather.gov/safety/winter
Staying Warm When Accidents Happen
I learned firsthand how accidents happened when I had a snowmobile accident about 7 years ago that almost killed me. I hit the throttle all the way on my 2nd day of sledding.
I ended up 30 ft. in the air, hit a tree, and landed in a ravine. My husband could not find me at first and could not all for help as there was no cell service in the rural area.
He had to wait until someone drove by to ask for help. It took the medics 45 minutes to get me out of the woods and I started to go into hyperthermia. They had to inject a warm liquid to help me so I would not freeze to death.
Once I got to the nearest hospital, they found I had too many injuries and had to transport me to a trauma center a few hours away.
It was a long ride in the ambulance on a cold snowy night. The temperatures were about -10 degrees. My boots and gloves fell off of me when I was bumped off the sled after hitting the tree. Saying warm was not easy that evening.
Years later we had another accident driving up the mountains and my husband was injured. We almost got killed getting out of the vehicle as other vehicles were spinning on the icy roads.
Preventative Steps You Can Take to Stay Warm
There are several preventative steps you can take for staying warm to avoid hypothermia and frostbite. Of course, good planning and purchasing the right clothing and equipment are at the top of the list for staying warm.
1. Planning Ahead In Colder Weather
Planning ahead before you head outdoors in the winter months is very important. Check the weather forecast that day.
However, if you live in the mountains, the weather can change quickly. We were coming home the other night from a 300-mile trip and the weather was for cloudy skies.
But while driving through the mountains the snow was coming down fast and temperatures dipped below freezing quickly.
2. Clothing For Staying Warm
Having the right gear and clothing will help you stay warm when the temperatures go way below freezing.
First, dress in layers so you can remove clothing if you start to get too warm. Purchase the best clothing, you can as it will protect you better. The better clothing for staying warm should last you a lifetime. You can also purchase heated gear which we use often.
Second, stay dry—wet clothes will make you lose body heat more quickly. Be sure to look for waterproof clothing from head to toe!
Third, wear a hat or scarf to protect exposed skin from the wind and cold temperatures. You will need to protect your face too when the temperatures go below 10 degrees.
However, if you don’t have the money for new clothing think wool. Wool is the only common fabric that can still insulate, even if soaking wet! Many hikers will only wear wool socks, even in the summertime. Wear wool next to your skin.
Never, ever cotton, if you are out in the cold. Once wet, cotton loses its insulation property and takes hours to dry. One your feet you can develop itchy red feet if it happens.
I have a heated pair of gloves now for the exceptional cold days in our rural area. They are operated by batteries that need to be charged before using several hours. They have 3 temperature controls to choose from.
3. Keep Warm Naturally
Not only clothing but learning how to keep the body warm naturally by preparing and eating foods that take longer to digest. These foods to keep you warmer could include:
- red meat
- sweet potatoes
- hot drinks
4. Carry Other Valuables When Traveling In Cold Weather
Having food and medicines with you will help you survive the times you may get stuck out in the cold weather. On the day of my accident, I had fruit snacks in my pocket. I knew if I got hungry I could have eaten some.
Today when I go snowshoeing I carry quite a few essentials with me: a fully charged mobile device in a case to keep it warm, extra snacks, and drinks. (Thermos must be able to keep liquid from freezing!)
A compass in case I get lost, as well as extra meds and a whistle to call for help if needed in emergencies.
5. Vehicles and Equipment In Colder Weather – Fully Fueled and Checked
If you are using a vehicle to go out in the colder temperatures be sure they are working 100% and are fully fueled and ready for any journey that could take longer in the frozen weather. Even on the snowmobile, we carry an extra gas tank made for it in case of emergency as you never know what you may encounter.
Not only weather and other riders on the trails but wildlife as well can crash into you on your journey. The real key to staying warm is being fully prepared for anything out in the wilderness.
How to keep body warm naturally is important too if you get stuck outdoors for any length of time.
Your Mood Also Suffers When You’re Cold
Your mood suffers when you’re cold. That’s because being cold activates your fight-or-flight response, which releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones make you feel anxious and stressed out.
And when you’re anxious and stressed out, you’re more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders.
So if you want to maintain a good mood, find ways to keep yourself warm during the winter months as well as to stay active.
Staying Warm And Active In The Cold
Walking, shoveling snow, or even just doing some light exercises indoors can help increase your body temperature and make you feel more comfortable in cold weather. Just be sure not to overdo it—you don’t want to get too sweaty and end up feeling even colder later on.
That’s why dressing in layers is so important when being active in colder climates. Oftentimes, while snow snowing I’m amazed at how warm it gets in 20+ degree weather. I put the extra layers and clothing in the backpack as needed.
Tips for Staying Warm at Home
Finally, make sure your home is adequately heated—aim for 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, be sure that any exposed pipes are insulated so they don’t freeze.
Also be aware if you use heat pumps in very cold weather, it will cost you a lot of money! They work much harder under 0-degree temperatures. We saw our electric bill last year go up $500 in one month due to a new heat pump we used in one large room.
Furthermore, you can use a pellet or wood stove to save more on the increasing energy costs of heating your home in the wintertime. Lastly, having a programmable thermostat can help you adjust if you are away from home as well.
However, how to keep yourself warm in a cold room of the home is a little harder but can be done. Dress in layers and be sure to have very warm socks on.
I usually end up wearing socks to bed until my feet warm up and it is how to keep warm in bed. The rest of my body feels warm as well.
While most people associate health hazards with warmer months, it’s important to remember that cold weather can be just as dangerous—if not more so. That’s why it’s so important for people living in colder rural areas to take steps to stay warm during the winter months.
By dressing in layers, staying dry, protecting exposed skin, and keeping your home heated, you can help prevent cold weather health hazards like hypothermia and frost.
Lastly, please don’t forget about your pets. Do not leave them outdoors when the temperatures are dangerously low. If you have an automatic dog door, be sure to turn it off on those colder days and evenings.
What do you do to stay warm in colder temperatures? Please drop a comment so we can all learn some other tips for staying warm.