When the Weather Outside Is Frightful, Here’s How to Stay Warm

When the Weather Outside Is Frightful, Here’s How to Stay Warm

The right gear, a little planning and practicing for the cold temperatures can help you take celebrations outdoors to avoid Covid-19.

How do you stay safe and stay connected with family and friends during a Covid winter?

Cold temperatures and heavy snowfall in parts of the country have put a chill on safer, outside gatherings, driving more people indoors. But the icy weather comes at a treacherous time during the pandemic: Rising case counts mean there’s more virus out there, and any social or holiday gathering indoors will give the virus more opportunities to spread.

But the official arrival of winter doesn’t mean you have to be stuck inside. With a little planning, the right gear and an understanding of how the human body reacts to cold, it’s still possible to take all or at least part of your social life and holiday celebrations outdoors — and still stay warm (or at least not get too cold).

“In the right conditions, depending on what you’re wearing and what you’re doing, a person doesn’t have to be cold,” said John W. Castellani, research physiologist in the thermal and mountain medicine division at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass. “People are afraid of the cold, but there’s no reason to be if they have the right clothing and the right mind-set.”

Autumn fire safety advice - Fire Safety Managers Ltd

When the Weather Outside Is Frightful, Here’s How to Stay Warm

But staying warm is more than just a state of mind — there are several steps you can take to help your body cope with cold conditions. The human body can adapt relatively quickly to cold temperatures. Habituation to cold is the reason the same temperature can feel really cold in the fall and blissfully warm in the late winter.

“In the fall when it starts to cool off, people think 50 degrees feels awful,” Dr. Castellani said. “When February comes along and the temperature hits 50 degrees, oh my God, you want to play golf. You think spring has happened. Well, there’s a lot that’s happened to a person physiologically that makes that adaptation happen between October and February.”

The good news is your body can begin to adjust to frigid weather in a matter of a days, according to a number of cold acclimation studies. When our bodies step out into the cold, two major physiological responses keep us warm. First, blood vessels constrict to reduce blood flow to our skin and reduce heat loss in the body’s core. That’s why your distant body parts — fingers, toes, ears and nose — all get cold so quickly.

“The goal is to shunt blood back to the body’s core and protect the important organs in there to keep us going,” Dr. Castellani said. “It sacrifices those peripheral areas.”

And if you haven’t dressed for the weather or you stay outdoors too long, your body’s shivering response kicks in as a way to generate more heat.