Winter weather can certainly be a nuisance with its snow and below freezing temperatures, especially if you’re one of the unlucky ones who commutes to and from work in the dark. However, it’s worth considering adding outdoor exercise as another reason to look forward to the weekend sunshine. According to the Mayo Clinic, it has numerous benefits and can even stimulate our immune system; but you must also exercise caution while doing so.
Although there are dangers to any type of exercise performed outdoors, there aren’t nearly as many hazards or restrictions as you may think. As with any exercise regimen, be sure to consult with your physician before beginning an exercise program. According to the Mayo Clinic, almost anyone can exercise outdoors during the winter, even those with mild respiratory or cardiovascular ailments, but I can’t stress enough the importance of clearing it with your primary, physical therapist, or chiropractor first.
The added advantages of exercising outdoors during winter include burning more calories, greater cardiovascular benefits, a higher tolerance for colder weather, and perhaps most important: natural doses of Vitamin D. When exercising in colder temperatures, our bodies must work more than normal to regulate our core temperatures, resulting in our hearts also working more to properly distribute blood throughout the body. CAUTION, if you possess an unhealthy heart, exercising in conditions that require greater cardiovascular stamina may exacerbate an illness or injury, which is why you should be cleared by a medical professional. Therefore, even if you’re just clearing or shoveling your driveway, take breaks appropriately!
The biggest mistake most fitness enthusiasts make is dressing too warmly, or layering ineffectively. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been shoveling snow, and I always remember my father telling me that the heat is in the tools. That’s because exercise generates heat, which can allow our bodies to feel much, much warmer than the actual outdoor temperature. When you slow down though, the perspiration on your body dries, which is when you begin to feel chilled, and difficulties can surface. A simple solution is to dress in layers and remove them, as you need to. Each layer should prove functional, with the first layer made of polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Fleece makes an excellent second layer, providing insulation, and the third layer should be something waterproof.
The next step is to remain hydrated – something you should do regardless of the temperature. According to the University of Alabama, to remain optimally hydrated, drink 8 to 12 cups of water per day, and at least 2 cups of water about two hours before exercising. Then, drink 1 cup of water about half an hour to 15 minutes before exercising, and ½ to1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise, which helps to prevent dehydration post-exercise, as well.
During exercise, blood is shunted from our head and extremities (arms/legs) to the core, because that’s where our more vital organs are. As a result, up to 50 percent of our body heat could be lost through our head, according to Virginia School of Medicine. Gloves will help prevent our hands from getting cold, however, mittens provide even more protection due to less exposure between fingers. Additionally, applying sunblock of 15 or higher helps protect from sunburn that can occur when exercising in snow or high altitudes. Even your lip balm should contain sunscreen for the added benefit!
You should also pay close attention to the weather forecast, as frigid temperatures in combination with heavy winds (classic Northeast weather) create a wind chill. When a wind chill becomes severe enough, say 8 degrees (F) below zero, your risk of developing hypothermia and frostbite rises drastically. If you suspect frostbite, which is characterized by paleness, numbness, or a loss of sensation, and is especially common on the face, fingers, and toes, it’s best to get out of the cold ASAP. The Mayo Clinic advises that you should begin to slowly warm the affected area, and if loss of sensation occurs, seek emergency care. To avoid this phenomenon, warm your extremities every 20 to 30 minutes that you’re outdoors.
To learn more online, search:
What to Wear for a Winter Workout at Livestrong.com
Exercise and Cold Weather at MayoClinic.org
Cold Weather Exercise Tips at BlueHillspt.com
Michael “Dr. Mike” Roney, D.C., is a musculoskeletal specialist who recently joined Pawling Family Chiropractic, located in the Atrium on Route 22. He can be reached at (845) 855-1475, FellaWellness.com online, or by email at DrMike@FellaWellness.com.