Winter may be off to a late start in some parts of Canada, but make no mistake: it’s here to stay for a while. If you can’t escape it, at least you can enjoy it — and we’re here to offer a little help.

Here are some of our top tips for embracing the season.

Safety first

Check conditions before you head out. Whether we’re commuting or heading out for a day of outdoor adventure, we Canadians have good reason to be obsessed with the weather. Sudden drops in temperature, freezing rain, poor visibility and wind chill factors can affect our safety. If tuning into your favourite weather source isn’t enough, look for weather alert services for email or your mobile device.

- Be extra cautious in trouble spots. Big surprise winter is prime time for falls — snow, slush and ice can make walkways, steps and parking lots dangerous. If you can’t avoid those slippery surfaces, try leaning forward slightly and take shorter strides when you walk. Try to “stay loose” and avoid locking your knees. (Shuffling works too!)

Also, be careful getting in and out of cars — that’s when a lot of falls occur.

- Choose the right footwear. Some boots just can’t handle a Canadian winter. Experts say to choose sturdy, supportive footwear with heavy treads that are made from rubber or a non-slip material. (They won’t be sexy, but they’ll be safe.) Slip on grips or cleats can also offer extra traction on packed snow and ice.

- Warm up before winter fun. Cold muscles, joints and tendons are more prone to injury — especially your calves and Achilles tendons. Make sure your body is warmed up properly before undertaking any winter activities.

And yes, that includes everyone’s favourite chore: snow shovelling. Warm up your muscles with some light activity like marching on the spot for a few minutes. Don’t forget to give your muscles a stretch — especially your arms and back.

- Practice safer snow removal. Got a snow blower instead? Make sure you read the instructions and safety warnings first, and always turn it off and use a stick or tool to clear any blockages. (Never use your hands — that’s how most snow blower injuries happen.) Watch out for any foreign objects in your path (like stones), and avoid any loose fitting clothing or scarves.

For more information, see the U.S. Consumer Product Safety and Commission Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety websites.

- Know the warning signs of hypothermia and frostbite — and what to do. Cold injuries like frostbite, frostnip (the first stage of frostbite) and hypothermia can be harmful and even life threatening. Experts warn to brush up on the symptoms and first aid season. For instance, changes to the skin’s appearance could signal frostnip or frostbite, and uncontrollable shivering could mean hypothermia has set in.  (For full details, see Environment Canada and the Mayo Clinic’s advice for frostbite and hypothermia.)

For more tips on how to stay safe this season, see Avoid winter injuries.

Health

Consider taking vitamin D. Thanks to our northern latitude, the sun’s rays aren’t so strong during winters here in Canada — plus we’re either inside or bundled up. Experts don’t always agree on the amount we need, but the Canadian Cancer Society recommends talking to your doctor about taking 1000 IU per day during the fall and winter. (See Time for vitamin D? for details.)

- Keep up your healthy diet. We get it — fresh produce is harder to find, and we crave comforting fare and endless cups of hot chocolate. However, a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats help keep our immune system strong and provide the nutrients we need to nourish our bodies, ward off chronic illness and keep our skin and hair healthy. (See Top immunity-boosting foods and Six keys to healthy eating for more tips.)

- Keep up your exercise routine too. It’s easy to give in to that sluggish feeling and desire to cozy up on the couch. Exercise is good for so many reasons — including fighting stress, improving sleep, boosting energy levels and helping keep that winter weight off. It’s also good for your skin — good circulation means more oxygen and vitamins get to the skin.

Activities that improve bone and muscle strength are essential too as they can protect us from injury. Not sure what you should be doing? See Get some balance back in your routine.

- Keep your hands and surfaces clean. You know the drill: wash your hands, and wash them often, to avoid picking up a cold or flu this season. (And keep your hands away from your face!)  Keep frequently-touched surfaces like door knobs, telephones and keyboards clean too to help prevent the spread of germs. (See 8 ways to prevent a cold or flu.)

- Beat the winter blues. Long nights and bad weather can get us down so indulge in activities that boost your spirit. For instance, get together with friends, go dancing, visit a local greenhouse or treat yourself to a cup of hot chocolate and a good book. Winter is also prime time for festivals, especially for treats like ice wine.

For more ideas, check out Blues busters, Fun and frugal winter activities and Top things to do in Canada this winter.

If you or someone you know is experiencing lasting symptoms like fatigue, loss of interest in activities and feelings of sadness, it may be time to see a doctor. Even something as simple as light therapy can help with seasonal affect disorder (SAD).

Beauty

- Keep up the sun protection. Summer may be long gone, but the sun’s UV rays can still do a number on our skin, hair and eyes. (Consider: all that snow provides a nice reflective surface to bounce those rays back up at us.) Luckily, our summer strategies still work — like wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.

- Moisturize regularly. Does your skin feel dry and tight? Time to up the ante on your moisturizing routine. Which products you select will depend on a number of factors, including where you plan to use it (face, body or hands), your age, skin type and any skin issues you have, like allergies or acne. A moisturizer with SPF 15 can also protect from the harmful rays of the sun.

Don’t forget the lip balm too! Lips can feel especially parched during the winter.

- Switch up your routine. Our skin and hair need special care in the winter — and our favourite summer products won’t do. For example, beauty experts suggest a styling cream instead of gel to add moisture and elasticity so your hair is less likely to break or “fly away”. It may be time to swap out those powder-based foundations and opt for a lighter hue than you wear in the summer. 

- Avoid lingering in the tub. We know it’s tempting, but a long, hot shower or good soak in the tub can rob our skin of moisture and essential oils. Experts advise to keep a bath or shower to no more than 15 minutes this time of year.

- Pamper yourself. If ever there was a season for a little extra love, winter is it! A good soak, a gentle exfoliating scrub and nourishing treatments can help provide relief to weatherworn skin and hair — and who doesn’t love a massage? If a spa getaway isn’t in the budget, try some do it yourself spa treatments instead — many use ingredients right from your pantry. 

For more ideas, see Solve your winter hair woes and Winter care for healthier skin.

Around the home

Pay attention to indoor air quality. Without the windows open, indoor pollutants like perfumes, household products, mould and other chemical or biological pollutants could be adding to that “under the weather” feeling. An air quality test isn’t usually necessary — you can often spot and deal with the sources yourself. Don’t wait until spring to clean your air filters, for instance.

- Use a humidifier.  Indoor heating makes our homes and workplaces notoriously dry this time of year, and dry air will draw moisture from any available source — like your skin. Humidifiers can help keep your environment more comfortable, and experts note that 35 to 50 per cent humidity is ideal. (You can pick up a humidity gauge from any hardware store.)

- Plug the leaks. The chillier and windier the day, the more the cold will waft indoors. Now is a good time to “feel” the leaks and drafts that are straining your home energy costs. You might be able to do something about them now — like weather-strip the windows or put up plastic sheeting. If not, take notes on what repairs need doing in the spring.

- Change or add an accessory. It’s not the time of year for renovations or painting, but you can give any room a facelift with some warm accessories like a colourful throw, table runner or quilt. A new shower curtain can work wonders for a bathroom, and a well-placed mirror can brighten up a room. Many home and décor items are on sale this season. (See Add romance to your home for some inspiration.)

- Tackle clutter. Did you happen to notice shelves and storage bins are on sale too? Getting organized is a common New Year’s resolution for the home. Free up some space and even earn a little cash for your RRSP or TFSA by selling unwanted items. You don’t need to do it all at once — choose an area to tackle like a specific room or a closet. (Need some help? Try our tips for de-cluttering and ways to sell your stuff.)

Feeling pretty organized already? Tackle your financial house instead. Preparing for tax season is a good excuse to get financially organized.

Have we convinced you to love winter yet?  Perhaps not, but hopefully these tips will make the season more enjoyable.

What’s your best winter survival tip? Share it in the comments.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Catherine Yeulet

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by:
Elizabeth Rogers