Sweaters, boots, bonfires, scarves, hot chocolate, pumpkins, tea, hoodies, crisp air and snow. Yes ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of year again. Winter! A perfect moment to address the mystery of “to hydrate or to dehydrate” – because that is going to be the question in this topic.
Most people are familiar with typical cold weather hazards like hypothermia and frostbite for example. Dehydration however, is most likely not a candidate for being linked as a potential threat during winter outdoor activities. The dangers of dehydration are often underestimated and – if at all -rather exclusively associated with hot weather and activities during summer. How so?
Triggers Of Dehydration In Cold Weather
Dehydration is not bound to a particular season or temperature range. It can happen as easily on a freezing cold winter hike in the mountains as during a volleyball game on the beach in the blistering summer sun.
In cold weather situations, the thirst response diminishes – even when already dehydrated. This protective mechanism tricks our body into thinking it’s properly provided. As a result, the body constricts blood vessels to reduce the amount of blood flowing freely into the extremities. Less blood being pumped into the extremities means colder hand and feet. Colder hand and feet means the body will allow even less blood to flow – a vicious circle. By restricting this flow – the body is able to conserve heat by drawing more blood to its core.
During the cold seasons, we often wear additional and thicker clothing to keep us warm and comfortable. These boots, jackets and sweaters add a significant amount of weight – which then results in more heat produced during activities, thus (more) sweat than usual. The plus and down side to that is, sweat evaporates more rapidly in cold, dry air. Lacking that sweating sensation will result in not compensating (enough) for the fluids lost.
Those fleeting, misty clouds you’re creating when breathing in cold weather? That is water vapor, leaving your body. The colder the temperature and the more intense the outdoor activity, the more water you lose when you breathe. Warning: although not breathing would eliminate a threat of dehydration – it’s probably not the best solution. Please keep reading and continue to breathe.
Signs Of Dehydration
The first signs, in general can be:
– feeling thirsty
– feeling tired
– constipation or diarrhea
If these are ignored or misunderstood, symptoms can become more severe and even life threatening in more extreme situations.
– little to no urination
– sunken eyes
– dry and/or shriveled skin
– rapid heartbeat accompanied with rapid breathing
What to do
When confronted with a person who is suffering from severe dehydration, please contact the local or international emergency number. Until the arrival of paramedic personnel, let the person drink only small amounts of water at a time and monitor the vital signs continuously.
Stay Safe – The Precautionary Measures
As easy and apparent the answer may seem, the clue is to drink even when you’re not thirsty yet. Feeling thirsty is the first gentle reminder to get some more fluids in. As mentioned before, it’s even more important in cold weather situations – as your body is being tricked for being sufficiently hydrated.
Alcohol and caffeine
Now were getting there, ey? Well, no…
Consuming drinks containing alcohol or caffeine shouldn’t be your first choice. Both alcohol and caffeine are so-called “diuretics” – the cause even more loss of fluids due to the need of having to urinate.
Don’t overdo it
Drinking water, but don’t overdo it.
Your body can only process 0.5 to 0.8 liters per hour, the excess amount will not be stored but flushed out again.
Go Outdoors – Have Fun – And DRINK!
Drink before, during and after winter outdoor activities – even if you don’t feel thirsty. Your body will thank you for it and your performance levels will increase significantly as well.
AND DON‘T EAT YELLOW SNOW!
With that being said: stay safe, enjoy and have fun in the great outdoors!