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Stay active, healthy and safe this winter

Tips for a safe and healthy winter

The start of winter has been unpredictable but we know that the cold and snowy weather will be here for a while. Physical activity supports our mental and physical health, and winter is a great season to get outside to enjoy a variety of activities. From trails to hills to rinks, Simcoe Muskoka offers many outdoor activity options, but cold and extreme cold temperatures, snow and ice can pose health and safety risks for children and adults. Fortunately, there are steps you can follow to stay safer when spending time outdoors this winter.

Cold weather is common in the Simcoe Muskoka region. Exposure to cold and extremely cold temperatures can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening health problems. The good news is there are steps you can take to protect yourself and those you care about by understanding how cold weather can affect your health and by taking appropriate actions to reduce the risk.

Check the weather and plan ahead: Know the weather conditions before going outside. Plan ahead and modify plans according to the weather and travel advisories.

  • The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends keeping children indoors if the temperature or windchill is -27C, or lower. Consider shortening kids’ time outdoors when temperatures or windchill are -20C or lower. More advice about winter safety for children can be found at Caring for Kids, developed by the Canada Paediatric Society.

Be aware: Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, frostbite, and frostnip. Know if you or those in your care are more susceptible to the cold. Monitor for signs and symptoms of cold injuries.

Dress warmly: Dress in layers (an inner layer, a fleece or wool sweater middle layer and wind resistant outer layer), wear a hat, mittens or gloves, a scarf, warm socks and waterproof boots.

Stay warm and dry: Seek shelter out of the wind and cold. Take regular breaks from the cold. If you get wet or sweaty, change into warm clothes. Drink warm liquids (avoid alcohol and caffeine).

More information about the risks of cold weather and how to protect yourself and those you care about is available at smdhu.org/cold.

Although it can be tempting to stay indoors when it’s cold out, be sure to take advantage of  outdoor physical activity during the winter months. Besides being good for your overall health, outdoor exercise can lower stress, increase the release of feel-good hormones (endorphins) and help you forget about your worries for a while. Some of the ways you can be active and have fun outside include:

  • Going for a walk in your neighbourhood or a hike in nature with friends and family.
  • Walking your children or grandchildren to and from school each day.
  • Playing outside with the kids - build a snowman or make snow angels.
  • Hitting the slopes - go sledding, skiing, or snowboarding.
  • Going snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

More information on physical activity is available on the health unit’s website or check out the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for recommendations on various types of indoor and outdoor physical activity.

Wearing appropriate clothing can help you keep safe and warm while being active during winter months:

  • Dress in layers of clothing to preserve body heat and include long underwear/base layer, a fleece or wool sweater mid layer, and top it off with a wind/waterproof jacket. Avoid wearing cotton next to your skin as it absorbs sweat and stays wet.
  • Wear a hat, gloves or mittens, and a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks.
  • Wear waterproof boots or shoes.
  • Protect exposed skin with sunscreen (SPF30 or higher) and lip balm. Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB rating.
  • Wear a face mask and goggles if you are participating in winter activities such as skiing, snowmobiling and skating to protect your face from frostbite and windburn.
  • Wear a protective helmet when participating in snow sports to reduce the risk of head injuries.
  • Wear bright colours or add reflective material to clothing so others see you better.

To help prevent slips and falls on ice or in slushy and snowy conditions, a well-fitted boot with a good tread that offers warmth and stability is recommended. Look for the following when choosing winter boots:

  • Well insulated, waterproof and light in weight.
  • A thick, non-slip tread sole with a low and wide heel.
  • A raised cross-hatched pattern on soles is ideal and rubber or neoprene soles provide good traction on ice and snow.
  • The larger the area of contact between the shoe and the walking surface, the better.

While ice grippers on footwear can improve walking on hard packed snow and ice and may help prevent falls, grippers become dangerously slippery and must be removed before walking on smooth surfaces such as stone, tile and ceramic.

  • Changing temperatures can weaken ice surfaces found on bodies of water and the ice formed on lakes, rivers or ponds may not be thick enough to walk on. Beware of quick thaws that can weaken the ice surface.
  • An adult should make sure the ice is at least 10 cm (4”) thick for skating alone or 20 cm (8”) for skating parties or games.
  • Do not walk on ice near moving water as ice formed on moving water, such as rivers and creeks, may not be thick enough to be safe.
  • Stay away from the banks of ponds, lakes, streams and rivers during the spring thaw.

Winter weather can quickly change road and travel conditions for drivers. To help ensure you get to where you need to go this winter there are steps you can take to get your vehicle winter ready.

  • Get a maintenance checkup for your vehicle.
  • Put winter tires on your vehicle to improve traction and shorten braking distances in snowy and icy conditions.
  • Keep your fuel tank at least half full to reduce moisture in the fuel system and add weight to your vehicle. In case you are delayed or rerouted due to unexpected changes in road conditions or closures, be sure to have enough fuel to get you to your destination.
  • Keep an ice scraper/snow brush in your vehicle and top up washer fluid that works to -40oC.
  • Prepare a winter emergency car kit before you travel and keep it in your vehicle. Having extra warm clothing with you is also advisable.
  • Avoid travelling on ice-covered roads, overpasses and bridges, or when visibility is poor.
  • When the temperature drops, check in on neighbours, friends and family who may be at risk during extreme cold weather. Make sure they are warm and safe and have the supplies required.
  • Frequently check on children who are playing outside and ensure they remain properly dressed.
  • Notify friends and family of your location when planning to take part in outdoor activities, such as going into the bush to hike or travelling a distance to do some skiing.

During the colder months, people tend to spend more time indoors. The colder months are also a time of increased influenza, COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory virus transmission in our communities. It’s recommended to use multiple layers of protection to protect against infection and severe illness that include:

  • Know your risk by checking the COVID-19 Community Risk Level and determining the best ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 infection and serious illness.
  • Consider wearing a well-fitting mask in indoor public settings, especially if you are at higher risk of severe infection.
  • Get vaccinated for COVID-19 and influenza.
  • Stay home if you are ill and keep children home from school or child care if they are ill.
  • Wash hands and regularly clean high-touch surfaces.

 

If you have symptoms of any respiratory illness:

  • Stay home until you are fever-free (without using fever-reducing medication AND your symptoms have been improving for 24 hours).
  • If you can’t stay home wear a well-fitting mask and avoid non-essential maskless activities for 10 days from when symptoms started.
  • Don’t visit those at high risk of severe illness including those in long-term care, retirement homes or in hospital.
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