By D. V. Donatelli

An ax-head chomps into your front door, is pulled out, and crunches again into the same spot, splintering the wood, sending a strip of the door clattering to the floor. A crazy old man puts his face into the gash, looks into the eyes of your terrified family, and announces, "HEEEEEEEERE'S WINTER!" Indeed, winter is here—the freezing cold, the leafless trees, the shoveling. With the holiday season past us, and with 3 months of miserable cold to come, we think this is pretty much the perfect time to see what you know about staying healthy in cold weather.
True or False?
  1. False: Wearing sunscreen is not important in the winter. While we're not getting the more-direct rays of the summer, sun rays in the winter can be just as damaging to the health of your skin, because they easily bounce off all the ubiquitous snow, doubling your exposure to their harmful effects. By this point, it should be widely known that it's always important to wear sunscreen if we're going outdoors, no matter what time of year it is, because the sun is a pernicious, insidious monster.
  2. False: When exercising outdoors in the cold, it is best to wear cotton. You would think that cotton, a natural textile, would be helpful in dealing with the harsh cold of winter, but because it so easily soaks up sweat, it is the last thing you want to be wearing—at least right next to your skin—if you're going to exercise outside. Experts suggest starting with a garment made of polypropylene, which pulls sweat away from the skin (our own Steve Edwards suggests Merino wool, which wicks perspiration even more effectively); followed by a fleece, for insulation; followed by a waterproof layer that is also breathable, to get the ideal mix of winter-exercise clothing. Also, shoes and socks are really helpful.
  3. True: In cold weather, eating lightly before going out is better than eating heavily. Digesting a big meal requires a lot of blood to be routed to your digestive system, pulling it away from the extremities, which are the first to feel the effects of cold weather, meaning you will get colder quicker if you go out into the cold after eating heavily. Instead, try a light snack, which should serve to drive up your body heat without diverting warm blood from the extremities. However, to quote the late great Frank Zappa, "Don't you eat that yellow snow."
  4. True: A person burns more than 400 calories per hour when shoveling snow. Anyone who's had to shovel a driveway is probably wondering how that number could be so low. Shoveling snow, in my opinion, is more difficult than childbirth. I don't have any facts or figures to back that up, but at least a woman giving birth is getting something out of it (a baby), and, after all, how many old men have you heard of dying of a heart attack during childbirth? I rest my case. Shoveling snow reminds me of the toils of Sisyphus, except after several trips up and down the hill, Sisyphus didn't have to then scrape a layer of ice off his car and drive to work. Lucky jerk.