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Myths and Tips About Dressing for Winter

Do you know enough about the cold to keep warm? 

Poor planning of a winter outing can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. The following are some misconceptions about the cold and suggestions for staying toasty this winter. 

Myth: Dressing warmly avoids colds, viruses, and flu.

Mom was wrong on this one—mostly. If you haven't been exposed to a virus, cold weather won't make any difference. There are over 200 viruses that can cause the common cold. 

Myth: You lose body heat through your head.

There's nothing special about your head. You'll lose body heat from any part of your body that is exposed. It's a good idea to wear a hat, but other parts of your body must also be covered to keep you from getting cold, experts say. 

The amount of heat you can lose through your head depends upon a number of factors, including how thick your hair is and how much energy you expend in the cold.  The ratio of the surface area of a child's head relative to the child's body surface area is much greater than that of an adult, so that children lose proportionally more heat through their heads. Hoods and hats are more important to children because of this. 

Myth: Men and women feel cold at same temperature.

Ever notice that women's hands and feet tend to get colder before men's? It's because the external temperature at which men's and women's bodies begin conserving heat—called the set point temperature—varies by about three degrees. 

When surrounding temperatures drop to a certain point, your body will conserve heat by shutting off the blood flow to the hands and feet, making them feel chilled. For women, that temperature is about 70 degrees, while men can hold steady until about 67 or 68 degrees. 

Myth: Dress in layers to stay warm.

It's true that dressing in layers allows people to adjust for different levels of activity. But one well-made, warm garment will do just as well to keep away the winter chills. 

Dressing in layers does have merit, particularly for someone exercising in the cold. For the best results, wear polypropylene or another synthetic fabric next to the skin, a knit middle layer (which can be taken off if you get too warm) and a synthetic outer layer. 

Myth: Cotton is a good insulator.

Don't drag those old cotton long johns out of the closet yet. They may be comfortable for lazing before a fire, but they can be downright dangerous outside in the cold. 

When cotton gets wet, it conducts heat away from the body at a much more rapid rate than other fabrics. Anything that can dampen your clothes, such as perspiration, rain, or falling in the water, can cause cotton to start robbing you of heat fast. 

A good substitute is polypropylene, Capilene, or some other synthetic substance that pulls water away from your skin. 

Myth: Drinking alcohol will keep you warm.

Drinking alcohol may make you feel warm because it causes blood to rush to your skin's surface. But it actually causes your blood vessels to dilate and makes you lose heat faster. Drinking alcohol in the cold also impairs the shivering process, which generates extra body heat. 

But the worst part about alcohol consumption is that it impairs judgment.  

Myth: Fake fur is as warm as real fur.

Nature is best. If you wear one garment when you dress for the cold, animal fur is the best insulator, working much better than fake fur. Real animal hairs keep heat from leaving the body, and the leather of the fur is designed by nature to absorb heat, experts say.

Winter cold can be dangerous if you are not ready, or if you have prepared by following false information. Prepare now by educating yourself about the safest ways to protect yourself when the cold arrives.