skierWinter sports are fun but not always the safest activities. If you imagine yourself careening down a hill towards another skier or skating on the rink and then getting nailed by a hockey puck – well, you can probably see how and why plenty of cold-weather athletes wind up seeing a doctor unexpectedly.

And you don’t have to imagine. Statistics make it clear how dangerous winter sports can be. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2014 there were over 114,000 people treated for snow skiing-related injuries in hospitals, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms across the country; another 79,000 patients were examined for incidents that involved snowboarding.

You may never be able to completely injure-proof yourself while playing a winter sport, but there are preventative measures you could take to decrease the odds that you wind up visiting us at American Family Care during the next several months. Try these five strategies for staying healthy if you’re playing winter sports or exercising out in the elements.

Learn your sport slowly. That is, if you’re a beginner, and you’re just learning to ski, or ice skate, don’t take a lot of crazy chances and try to be the next Olympian. It’s hard enough to learn any sport, let alone one that requires you to be mobile and agile on ice and snow. Maybe it’s a little embarrassing to ski on something called the bunny slope, but better to be a bit embarrassed than spend the rest of your winter banged up and in a cast.

Stay bundled up when it’s really cold. Yes, you’re sweating, and it may seem like you don’t need to be dressed so warmly if you’re skiing, sledding, snowboarding, jogging or doing anything else that’s burning away calories while you’re out in the arctic-like air. But if it’s under 32 degrees, that’s when you could be at risk for frostbite — especially if you get wet. So if you’re sweating a lot, and you’re running in extremely cold weather, you can see where the trouble begins. As much as possible, stay covered up and dry.

Keep your mouth covered. If we’re talking really cold weather, this is where a ski mask can come in handy. As the air gets colder, your bronchial tubes narrow, and it’s harder for your mucous membranes (the inside of your nostrils) to stay moist. Which means that you can irritate your throat and nose if you’re extremely active outside and doing a lot of heavy breathing through your mouth. And while exercising in the cold won’t make you sick, a lot of activity can make it easier for your body to get sick. For instance, if you breathe a lot of dry, cold air through your nostrils, and you become congested and that can make it more difficult for your body to remove any bacteria or viruses that you inhale.

Stay hydrated. Everyone knows that on a hot and sweltering day when you’re running a marathon or playing football with friends or hitting a home run on your office softball team, you need to drink water. But guess what? You can become dehydrated during the winter, too. And you can become dehydrated very easily if you’re playing something like hockey or skiing for hours and not drinking enough liquid.

Get a flu shot. Sure, it doesn’t sound like that’s a tip for an athlete about to go hiking in the snow or tobogganing, but do yourself a favor and get a flu shot this winter, whether at American Family Care or elsewhere. But just get one. The flu season is expected to be particularly bad this year.

And obviously, take care of yourself in general by eating good, nutritious foods and getting a good night’s sleep. After all, you can’t play winter sports, or any sport for that matter, if you’re sick.