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Staying Warm and Dry in Canada's Coldest Winter 2014; Athletes and Workers

Home / Exercise in the Cold / Staying Warm and Dry in Canada's Coldest Winter 2014; Athletes and Workers
Planning For Extreme Weather as an Athlete or Worker in CanadaThis Blog is based on the research project Jane Sleeth worked on with Dr R Shephard at the DCIEM called “Exercise in the Cold”.Extreme cold affects people via 3 methods:• Air temperature itself • Wind speed or air movement. This is referred to as wind chill temperature whereby exposed flesh feels the combined effect of cold air + wind speed • Humidity-water conducts heat away from the body faster than dry air does. Physiological effects of exposure to extreme cold are:

  • Frostbite; skin & soft tissues are damaged due to freezing. Frostbite usually occurs in exposed body parts and those farthest from the heart. Be aware of the initial symptoms including itching & pain followed by the skin having white, red & yellow patches along with numbness. Skin blisters form 1-2 days after becoming frozen. Deep frostbite has purplish, blood-filled blisters that turn black. Nerve damage can result in a loss of feeling. If an athlete or worker is using  beta-blockers, has diabetes or peripheral neuropathy they are at increased risk of frostbite.
  • Hypothermia is where the body’s core temperature drops below what is required for normal metabolism & body functions. This is normally 95° F. Symptoms include shivering, mental confusion and   muscle in coordination. As this advanced the athlete or worker may be confused including difficulty speaking & thinking. Below 86° F the exposed skin gets blue & muscle coordination becomes very poor. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of hypothermia.
  • Chilblains are the superficial ulcers of the skin that happen with repeated cold exposure. This often happens after an athlete finishes a workout or a worker has been in and out of a building, exposed to cold.
  • Trench foot happens from repeated exposure to water, at non-freezing temperatures.

Proper Safety Planning for Athletes and Workers Extreme cold temperatures cause work-related & sports injuries that can be avoided with proper advanced planning & education. Whether in a sporting event or working outside with another co-workers a “buddy system” is important to set up so people are teamed to watch each other for these symptoms because the individual might not recognize them in themselves.

Proper Protective Clothing Having proper protective clothing, footwear and equipment is key to avoiding cold related injuries and impacted human performance.

Dress in layers-Air between layers is better insulation than a single heavy fabric. These layers can then be removed as athletes or workers head indoors or become warmer with activity. Wear a wicking layer like   athletic undergarments closest to the skin to wick moisture away. Avoid cotton, which does not insulate when wet as well as wool and synthetic materials do.

Shoes-waterproof boots or athletic shoes are a must in wet conditions. Shoes should have water proof bottoms & removable insoles.

Socks-keep a dry pair of wool or wool blend socks as these wick moisture away and also keep the feet warm if they become wet. Change socks as soon as possible after they become wet.

Eye and face protection is critical in that incorrect face protection can  interfere with visibility. Make sure eyewear is used as this blocks wind from impacting the eyes and eye lids.

Modified Work and Workout Procedures It may be necessary to modify work practices or workout timing to account for extreme temperatures.  An ergonomist/kinesiologist can help calculate modified break schedule & work to recovery ratios to allow workers & athletes to rest, warm up and change into dry clothing. Work or the workout needs to be paced avoid sweating that causes clothing to become wet and body temperatures to drop. Remember,  temperatures vary through the day but are usually colder in the early morning. If work or workouts can be avoided at this time, this is recommended to further prevent exposure to the cold.

To learn more about how cold impacts human performance read more in our Blog or contact one of our Kinesiologists or Ergonomists at Optimal Performance.

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