Enjoying Winter Weather Safely

Often, my inspiration for a blog post will come from my own life. I will experience something or get curious about something and then do some research to answer my own question. During that process, if I find interesting information that might benefit others, then I write a blog post to share what I’ve learned. This week, I was reminded of the importance of being prepared if you are going to exercise outside when the weather is cold. I found myself about a mile from home, with the sun going down in leggings that were not thick enough for the cold weather… So, for myself and for anyone else who might need it, here are some key tips about being safely active during the winter!

As the old saying goes, safety first! Staying safe and warm is the main concern. We are going to address clothes a bit later, but first we are going to talk about safety concerns unique to being outdoors in cold weather (for more general outdoor physical activity tips, check out this post). First, days are short during the winter. So, if you are an early morning or evening exerciser, odds are that it is going to be dark. If you are going to be near a road or cars, you need to make sure you are visible. Reflective clothing, wearable lights, or walking in well-lit areas can all help you been seen when you are out in the dark. With the short days, cold temperatures, and less sunlight than other times of year, you might be tricked into forgetting how powerful the sun can be. When exercising at daytime, be sure to have sunscreen on any exposed skin. Winter sport lovers might also need sunglasses, as the sun shining off the snow can be very bright. Finally, pay attention to the surfaces outside. Ice can cause you to trip and fall, so if it’s cold enough for ice then pay attention to the ground!

As promised, we will talk about wearing the appropriate clothes (unlike me!). Sticking with the theme of old sayings, I’m thinking of “dress for the job you want”. In this case, we might say dress for the temperature and amount of time you are going to spend outside. Start by checking the temperature and wind chill. If the temperature is below 0° F or if the wind chill is bad, you’ll want to consider staying inside (unless you have some serious cold weather gear). If you think you can dress warm enough to brave the temperature, then your best plan is to dress in layers. As you exercise, your body will generate heat, you will get warmer, and being able to remove layers as needed will really help. Wool is a great bottom layer because it pulls sweat away from your body (you’ll sometimes see clothes that are advertised as moisture wicking, this is what they mean). Finally, as you’re getting your outfit ready to go, you’ll want to pay close attention to your hands, feet, ears, and head. They are all areas that can get cold more quickly than the rest of your body. Hats, gloves, thick socks, and even chemical warming packs can be your best friends!

My final tip is to make sure you drink enough water. Again, in the cold weather you might not notice your sweat as much as you do in warm weather. Even when it is cold, you are likely to sweat, so make sure you are staying hydrated. Especially if you are going to be outside for a longer amount of time, make sure you have water with you. Again, the cold can make things tricky. You might need to carry your water in something insulated so that it doesn’t freeze on you!  

Winter can be tough and for many, Mother Nature keeps them indoors. That is totally fine, as always, my main point is that you should find a way to move that works for you. If going out in the cold sounds miserable, then find ways to move at home or in the gym. But, if you are going to brave the cold temps and go for some outdoor activity, follow these tips to make sure you stay safe!

Walking Safety in the Woods

Earlier this month, we talked about how our communities can make themselves more walkable. Specifically, we talked about how safety issues in a community can make people feel more or less comfortable walking there. But what if you are someone who prefers to exercise outdoors and not in your local neighborhood? Well, Maryland has some beautiful trails for all those looking to get out and do some hiking! But, there are still some important things you’ll want to do to stay safe on the trail.

A group of friends hiking. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

First, you want to be prepared for everything the outdoors can throw at you! Weather is a big part of that. You might start your hike under sunny skies only for a sudden storm or shower to appear. So, you’ll want to bring layers. Ideally, you want to have some warmer or waterproof clothing you can put on or remove, depending on the situation. You’ll also want to make sure you have good shoes. Especially if shoes get wet, they can rub and cause blisters. So, make sure your gear is going to cover you, regardless of the weather.

Another part of being in the great outdoors is dealing with bugs. Although some bugs (like ticks) are more common in the spring and summer, they are still out there in the fall. Wearing long sleeves and long pants and using bug spray can help you avoid bugs.

While appropriate clothing and weather preparedness is helpful, accidents can still happen. So, you’ll want to have at least a basic first aid kit so you can handle cuts, blisters, stings, and bites that might occur along the trail.

A first aid kit is a great way to handle small injuries, but what about larger injuries or emergencies? The best way to handle these concerns is to be prepared and have a way to get help, if needed. When you get out on the trail, you can pay attention to whether or not you have phone signal. You likely won’t have signal all the time, but if you make note of places where you had signal then you can go back to them and call for help if needed. Another great way to stay safe is to hike with a buddy or group. That way, someone is with you to get help if needed. A final idea for staying safe is to make sure someone knows where you are going and when you should be back. That way, if you end up in a position where you can’t reach out for help, someone knows where you are and when to start looking for you if you aren’t back when you should be.

Hiking is a great way to get out and enjoy the beauty Maryland has to offer! Although accidents can happen, following these safety tips can help you be prepared on the trail. If you are prepared and want to get out and experience the benefits of a great hike, check out https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/default.aspx for information on Maryland State parks and https://www.visitmaryland.org/list/places-go-hiking for information on some great Maryland hiking spots. Then, get out and get moving on the trail to celebrate Walktober!

To learn more about Walktober and Maryland’s official state exercise, or to sign up to participate in Walktober events, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober.

Safe Celebrations for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the start of the most wonderful time of the year – but this year it looks a bit different. 

Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are always the best, but this year can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Obviously, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household. If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer.

Attending a Gathering

Make your celebration safer. In addition to following the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer like washing hands properly, take these additional steps while attending a Thanksgiving gathering.

  • Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.
  • Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as the kitchen.
  • Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

Hosting a Thanksgiving Gathering

If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. Other steps you can take include:

  • Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
  • Limit the number of guests.
  • Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
  • If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows and provide ventilation.
  • Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
  • Have guests bring their own food and drink.
  • If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

Consider Other Thanksgiving Activities

  • Host a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live with you
    • Schedule a time to share a meal together virtually.
    • Have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing, or other dishes they prepared.
  • Watch television and play games with people in your household
    • Watch Thanksgiving Day parades, sports, and movies at home.
    • Find a fun game to play.
  • Shopping
    • Shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and the days leading up to the winter holidays.
    • Use contactless services for purchased items, like a curbside pick-up.
    • Shop in open-air markets staying 6 feet away from others.

Don’t forget to practice gratitude this Thanksgiving, especially if you and your family are healthy and well! 

Blog contributed by Morgan Page (’21), University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities

You Are What You Drink

Ever give any thought to how critical water is to your health? You may have heard that we should drink eight 12-ounce glasses a day, but why? Knowing the value of water to our bodies and health should prompt us to give this fundamental nutrient greater attention.  

Macro shot of pouring water into a glassSince we are made up of about 60% water (and babies are 78%), it stands to reason that we are what we drink as much, maybe more, than we are what we eat. Both the quantity and quality of water matters. Water is critical for a variety of essential body functions — it is a basic building material for our cells, helps regulate body temperature, aids in respiration, helps digestive system process foods, removes wastes from the body, lubricates our joints, aids good brain function (the brain is 73% water), and other important functions.

wss-property-water-in-you-body (1)So that recommendation to drink about 8 glasses a day is understandable and we should put this in our daily regime, but while getting enough water is imperative, the quality of water is also important to our health. 

Our drinking water comes from two major sources, surface water (rivers and reservoirs) and groundwater via wells. Municipalities rely on both sources. About 73% of US drinking water comes from surface sources and the remaining 27% from groundwater wells. 

Public water supplies are regulated by EPA and go through extensive quality testing and treatment to ensure safety. Private well water quality is unregulated and the responsibility for ensuring quality is up to the homeowner. 

image-from-rawpixel-id-436140-jpegDon’t know your source? If you get a monthly water bill, you are served by a public supply. All public suppliers are required to provide users with an annual water quality report or Consumer Confidence Report. Contact your water utility and check it out. 

If you are on a well, test your water annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria. If you don’t have any recent water quality information, contact your local health department for recommendations on what to test for.  

Remember to drink water for your health!