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Winter advice: avoid overexertion.

Snow and ice may look scenic from inside the warmth of your home, but getting out in it may be a different story. Exerting yourself by pushing a car out of a snowbank or shoveling wet, heavy snow in freezing temperatures may strain your muscles and your heart.

"Just being in the cold itself, without trying to take part in strenuous activity, is stressful to the body," points out Peggy DeCelle Newman, assistant professor of physical therapy, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "Persons who exert themselves foolishly in the winter can suffer everything from frostbite to muscle injuries to heart attacks." Thin people, the elderly, and smokers are the most prone to cold-related injuries such as frostbite or hypothermia. Also, those who have been drinking alcohol may be vulnerable to frostbite, since alcohol gives a false sense of warmth to the body.

Hats, scarves, and mittens are vital for keeping much-needed heat trapped near the body, either while shoveling the sidewalk or walking outside in the cold. Wearing layers of clothes also is important. " Loosely woven material such as wool or thermal underwear should be close to the body. That traps the warm air coming from your body and insulates you. Then, put a layer of nylon or other non-porous fabric on the outside as a windbreaker."

If you absolutely have to remove snow, don't load the shovel down and be sure to warm up before you begin. "Stretch your muscles and take frequent breaks to stretch your back. When you lift the shovel, bend your knees and let your legs do the lifting. Don't twist your back, since any twisting motion is bad for the spine. When you're finished, perform some activity to cool down rather than simply stopping abruptly, as this gives your muscles and joints time to adjust."

People who spend time outdoors should watch for signs of hypothermia, which may include decreased coordination, lethargy, and slurred speech or an inability to speak. If such symptoms are evident, go inside immediately.

When walking or driving, watch for slippery surfaces. "The key is to slow down. Test the surface you're going to walk on and don't wear high-heeled shoes. Be careful around stairs and use handrails. If you get stuck while driving and have to push your vehicle, it's much better to push than to pull it. Ask for help if you can. It's better to do that than to pay for all the doctors' bills and all of the agony you're going to have from hurting yourself--possibly permanently."
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Title Annotation:cold-related injuries
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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