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Layer Up, It's Cold Outside

Dressing warmly will protect you from the chill

SUNDAY, Jan. 12, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- It's that time of the year when even a quick trip outside can cause a chill, and longer jaunts can be downright dangerous.

What's a body to do when the bitter winds blow, the mercury plummets and the ice and snow start to accumulate?

The experts at Michigan State University (MSU) recommend paying very close attention to what you wear and especially to how your clothing is layered. Layering, they say, accomplishes two things:

It traps heat between each layer and keeps you warmer, and it lets you remove clothing as you warm up, to prevent overheating.

Three basic layers are recommended. The underlayer, the one closest to the skin, should be made of a material that wicks moisture away from the body. Cotton is a poor choice because it tends to absorb and hold moisture, which can result in heat loss. Many people find that a turtleneck for the upper body and tights or long underwear for the lower body work well for this first layer.

The insulating layer of clothing is next. The purpose of this layer is to insulate the body and conserve heat. The favorite fabric choices for this layer have long been wool and fleece, but there is also a range of new-age materials emerging. One of the reasons that wool has retained its popularity is that it can conserve heat, even when it's wet. A lightweight wool sweater makes an excellent layer for the upper body.

Unless you're going to be out in very extreme temperatures, or be exposed to moderate cold for a very long period of time, such as while hunting, fishing or attending a lengthy sporting event, you may not need an insulating layer for the lower body.

The final layer is the outer shell. This shell provides a barrier to wind and moisture and helps conserve body heat. The best material for such a shell should be a breathable, water-resistant fabric, such as the material from which many windbreakers and jackets are made. Wind or rain pants for the lower body complete the cold weather protection.

MSU experts point out that two other items are important in maintaining body heat in cold weather -- a wool or knit cap for the head and mittens or gloves for the hands. A large amount of heat is lost through the head, so a head covering is invaluable for conserving heat. Heat also escapes from the extremities, especially the hands. Unless the hands have to be used in an activity, mittens are the preferred hand cover because the fingers are not isolated and help keep one another warm.

With a little attention to weather and wardrobe, keeping the body warm on cold days is easy.

More information

Learn more about hypothermia in winter from World Book Medical Encyclopedia.

SOURCE: Michigan State University Sports Medicine Clinic
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