Winter in Pennsylvania at times is a winter wonderland. North central Pa. is known for year-round recreation which means many of us trade in our hiking boots, mountain bikes, and boats, for snowshoes, skis, and snowmobiles once enough snow covers the ground.
There’s so much fun to be had right outside our doors, but we need to remember that the season comes with its share of conditions that could turn an enjoyable outing into a hospital visit.
Prepare Before You Leave
Preparation is key to staying safe whenever you head outdoors in the winter. The bitterly cold of the season mixed with snowstorms, ice, wind, rain, sleet, and whatever else Mother Nature throws our way, can often cause serious, life-threatening injuries, no matter how careful we are. When heading outdoors, consider what the worst-case scenario may be and plan accordingly.
Being out in the elements unexpectedly, or underdressed and underprepared can put you at a greater risk for developing hypothermia or frostbite. But even when under cover, hypothermia can still develop. Plan, dress accordingly, and even include items in a backpack to take along should you need them. It’s always safer to have the items and not need them, then to be without. When selecting an outfit consider moisture wicking or loose-fitting light-weight layers of clothing, a hat, gloves, insulated socks and water-repellant shoes. Steer clear of cotton and look to synthetics and wool blends.
When we feel the sting of cold weather, we might brush aside the idea of working up a sweat or getting dehydrated. However, hydration is crucial year-round as during the winter months, sweat evaporates more rapidly in the cold, dry air, and that can result in dehydration. Without the sweat, we’re tricked into thinking we aren’t losing fluids as rapidly as during a hot, summer day. Cooler temperature can also reduce the body’s thirst response. When exercising in cold weather, you may be less likely to drink water voluntarily. Carry along a water bottle when you head outdoors and be sure to moderate your consumption of alcoholic and sugary beverages.
Additionally, plans can change just as quickly as the weather so it’s a good idea to consider letting a friend or family member know when you’re heading out, especially if you’re planning to be along. With the shorter days, darkness can sneak up on you. Even jogging or sledding can become dangerous when it gets dark. Make sure you wear bright colors when you are out and keep a small flashlight or headlamp with you. By sharing your plans, if you don’t return home when expected, your friends will know exactly where to find you.
One of the biggest tips for avoiding injury is to use common sense and avoid situations that will put you at added risk. If you are participating in risky activities, consider taking steps for added safety. Falls and accidents can happen anywhere and at any time. While you may just think it’s a little bunny slope, you’re just walking down the driveway to the mailbox, or it’s just a flat snowmobile trail you’ve been down a dozen times, it’s important not to let our guard down when it comes to safety. Consider keeping traction aids readily accessible by your winter boots and always wear a helmet when out skiing or riding a snowmobile or ATV. While it may seem minor, these simple safety devices can go a long way in helping avoid injuries should you slip, fall, or get in an accident.
Being active in the winter is a great way to stay healthy and avoid the winter blues. While some people like to enjoy the cold winter months hibernating indoors, you may enjoy cold-weather sports and outdoor activities. No matter what your preference is, we want you to be safe and avoid a trip to our emergency departments.
Annalisa Negrea, RN, is the injury prevention coordinator with Trauma Services at UPMC Williamsport, 700 High Street. For more information, visit UPMC.com.