How to Adjust to Canadian Winter

By Lisa Evans

You’ve gotten over the culture shock and even enjoy drinking Tim Horton’s coffee, but it may take years before your body can adjust to Canadian winter. With temperatures falling below freezing, snow storms brewing outside and frost covering your car windshield, winter can seem downright terrifying. But knowing how to protect yourself from winter’s wrath can bring you out of hibernation.

Dress for the Season

The best way to stay warm in winter is to dress in layers. Two or three layers of light shirts or sweaters are more insulating, and keep the heat trapped inside better, than wearing one heavy sweater. Start with a t-shirt or a tank-top, then throw on a long-sleeved shirt or turtleneck, followed by a sweater or vest.

A heavy down-filled coat will keep your torso toasty. Add a hat that covers your ears and a scarf to cover your face and mouth, warming the extremely cold air before your lungs inhale it. Don’t forget a pair of mittens or gloves. Leather gloves are best for driving as they allow you to better grip the steering wheel.

Keep your feet warm with thick wool socks and invest in a quality pair of fabric-lined boots to protect your feet, and help keep you from catching a chill. Make sure your boots have a tread to prevent slipping on icy sidewalk surfaces. Avoid wearing dress shoes, especially those with high heels, outdoors. Pack an extra pair of shoes in your purse or backpack to slip on when you get where you’re going.

If you’re planning to spend the day outdoors, invest in thermal underwear. The extra insulating layer will keep you warm and soak up the moisture when you sweat, so you don’t catch a chill.

Stay Healthy

November to March is prime cold and flu season in Canada, with the number of reported flu cases peaking in January and February. This is primarily because we spend more time indoors during the coldest months of the year, making it easier for viruses to spread.

While it’s normal to want to hide indoors while Mother Nature wreaks havoc outside, the best way to fight off colds and flu is to stay active. Join a community gym, invest in some fitness DVDs, or participate in some of the winter activities listed at the end of this article.

Boost your immunity by eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoid eating refined sugar, smoking, stress, and other factors that weaken the immune system. Keep home surfaces clean, wear gloves when on public transit, and wash your hands often. If you can’t wash your hands, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse or coat pocket. Also, be sure to get plenty of rest in the winter months. Sleep is the body’s opportunity to heal itself, so aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

The best way to protect your body against the flu is to get a flu shot. Vaccines are provided free of charge to residents of Ontario, while other provinces offer free flu shots to seniors and young children. For information on the flu shot, visit Health Canada at

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and a key ingredient in bolstering your body’s immune system. Pharmacies stock shelves with vitamin C pills, but the best way to increase your vitamin C intake is by eating lots of vitamin C-rich, Canadian-grown vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, green peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes and winter squash.

Fun Winter Activities

It may not seem like you can have fun outdoors on a cold, snowy day; but generations of Canadians have enjoyed these winter activities:

Cross-Country Skiing – Many provincial parks offer cross-country skiing. Rentals are typically cheaper than going to a ski resort.

Tobogganing – A favourite Canadian winter pastime; find a steep hill in your neighbourhood, grab a sled and slide. The hardest part is walking up the hill.

Skating – Many public skating rinks open around the city as soon as the frost starts to set in. Most outdoor rinks are free and skates can be rented for a cheap rate, or consider buying a pair of used skates from a second-hand store.

Stay Cheerful

Above all, don’t let winter get you down. The cold, dark months can be discouraging, but they won’t last forever. While they’re here, fight off their chill and gloom by getting together with your friends, taking up a new hobby, spending time with your family, trying something new and fun... and planning what to do when the good weather comes. Even in the depths of winter, springtime is just around the corner.