In order to safely participate in any outdoor activity, you need to properly fuel and hydrate your body. Before heading outside, grab a nutritious snack such as a piece of fruit, yogurt, a handful of nuts and some water or juice to hydrate and pump up your energy stores. Pack an additional nutritious snack and water to take along. Check Canada's Food Guide for healthy eating guidelines and nutritional tips.
Be sun safe while you’re outside:
- Stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Liberally apply "waterproof" sunscreen on or near the water - remember to re-apply again after swimming.
- Wear a brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a breathable long-sleeved shirt and pants to protect you from the sun more thoroughly than sunscreen.
Your normal daily fluid intake requirement can be significantly affected by exercise, sweating, heat or altitude. Be sure to monitor your hydration and proactively drink before you feel thirsty – sometimes your thirst indicator may malfunction when you’re already dehydrated. Pace yourself and allow your body to adapt to the heat and/or altitude.
Watch for early symptoms of dehydration including decreased coordination, lethargy, and impaired thinking. Dehydration can quickly lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and in extreme cases, heat stroke.
If you feel symptoms of dehydration or heat cramps, replenish lost fluids and electrolytes through a sports drink or by eating salty foods and drinking water. If you feel symptoms of heat exhaustion, drink plenty of fluids and cool your core. For severe cases, including heat stroke, treat as for heat exhaustion and immediately seek emergency medical attention.
Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature resulting from exposure to cold temperatures but can occur at even cool temperatures if you are chilled from rain, sweat or immersion in cold water. Dress properly – in warm layers and with waterproof clothing - to prevent hypothermia. Watch for symptoms including shivering, confusion, slurred speech, drowsiness, low energy.
If you feel symptoms of hypothermia immediately get indoors and into warm, dry clothing. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket and drink a warm beverage (not alcohol or hot coffee). Get medical attention as soon as possible.
Cold Water Shock
Imagine that you are enjoying a warm day on your boat. You get up to grab something. Suddenly, you lose your balance and fall into water that is less than 15°C. Cold water can paralyze your muscles instantly. Sadly, many people do not understand this danger and how important it is to avoid it.
Cold water shock likely causes more deaths than hypothermia. Canada’s cold waters are especially dangerous when you fall into them unexpectedly. For three to five minutes, you will gasp for air. You could also experience muscle spasms or a rise in your heart rate and blood pressure. Worse yet, you could choke on water or suffer a heart attack or a stroke.
REMEMBER: Even strong swimmers can suffer the effects of cold water shock.
If you are wearing a lifejacket or PFD before falling into cold water, it will keep you afloat while you gain control of your breathing and prevent drowning from loss of muscle control. Trying to grab a lifejacket or PFD while in the water, let alone putting one on, will be very hard because of the changes your body will be experiencing.
If you end up in the water, do everything you can to save your energy and body heat. Swim only if you can join others or reach safety. Do not swim to keep warm.
You may survive longer in cold water if you:
- wear a Canadian-approved lifejacket or PFD so that you will not lose valuable energy trying to keep your head above water;
- climb onto a nearby floating object to get as much of your body out of or above the water as possible;
- cross your arms tightly against your chest and draw your knees up close to them to help you keep your body heat;
- huddle with others with chests close together, arms around mid to lower back, and legs intertwined.
For more information, or to see what really happens during cold water immersion, visit coldwaterbootcamp.com.
Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism (banner);; NWTT/Terry Parker