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Frigid Weather and Sports Can Mix

Even when the cold winds howl, the freezing rain pours down and the snow flies fast and furious, many winter sports enthusiasts can't wait to take to the fields, rinks or slopes.

In fact, winter sports activities are great for body and soul, but cold weather can require a little more preparation and attention to detail for safe participation.

According to experts at the Curry Health Center at the University of Montana, where cold weather is a familiar phenomenon, the outdoor temperature is only one variable winter athletes need to consider. Others include the intensity and duration of participation in the sports activity, velocity of the wind and an individual's level of conditioning.

The doctors at Curry Health caution that athletes need to take into account the combination of temperature and wind, called the wind-chill factor, when readying for sports participation. Depending on the speed of the wind, even a temperature as high as 30 degrees can be dangerous because during exercise heat is lost and the body temperature can drop to dangerous levels.

Frostbite caused by the effects of below-freezing temperatures on tissues of the body is another common threat. Its hallmark symptoms are burning, numbness and white or blue tissue. The areas most sensitive are fingers, ears and toes. Protecting these with mittens, hats, wool socks or other protective gear can lengthen periods of safe athletic participation.

Beware of wet athletic gear and clothing when the mercury hovers near or below the freezing point. Wet garments, especially those that are not wool, give little protection from the elements.

Several symptoms are tip-offs that participation in outdoor winter sports should be discontinued immediately, including:

  • Uncontrollable or excessive shivering
  • Loss of sensation, control or ability to move fingers or toes
  • Lethargy or extreme tiredness
  • Slowed breathing and heartbeat
  • Mental confusion

The staff of Curry Health point out these symptoms are serious and can be life-threatening. Immediate appropriate intervention is critical, but an ounce of prevention is also of value.

More information

Learn more about winter sports safety for children from Health Canada.


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