It’s winter, which means cooler weather, but don’t let that keep you from being active. Recommendations from ChooseMyPlate.gov state that adults should have at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity per week, which means about 30 minutes five days a week. It can be difficult to find the motivation to increase physical activity, let alone keep the same routine as warmer months. So how can you keep yourself active while staying safe, motivated and reasonably comfortable in the winter months?
Check the conditions. Wet, icy and windy conditions can cause hurdles and downright dangerous circumstances for exercising outside, that’s why it’s important to know the weather forecast before heading out. The Mayo Clinic says the risk of frostbite is less than five percent when the air temperature is above five degrees Fahrenheit. Becoming wet from precipitation like rain or snow makes you more vulnerable to hypothermia. If you end up soaked, your core body temperature may drop too low. In these conditions, it’s best to wear waterproof gear or find a way to exercise indoors. And remember, before starting a new exercise routine, check with your doctor about special precautions you may need to take.
Signs of frostbite and hypothermia. The Mayo Clinic says frostbite is most common in exposed areas such as your cheeks, nose and ears as well as hands and feet. Early warning signs are numbness, loss of feeling, or stinging sensation. If this happens, get out of the cold and slowly warm the effected area. Avoid rubbing the area which may cause damage to skin. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it’s produced, which causes an abnormally low body temperature. Warning signs of hypothermia include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination, and fatigue. Seek emergency help immediately for hypothermia.
Why your chest hurts while exercising in the cold. Have you ever wondered why your chest hurts while being active in cold weather? The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center says that airways may become narrow and irritated by cold air while trying to do their job of warming and humidifying. To help, take a warm shower after exercising outside in cold weather. It helps bring up your body temperature and combat irritation caused by cold, dry air. Just don’t forget to moisturize your skin afterward! Another helpful tip is to wear a mask or scarf over your mouth while exercising in temperatures under 32 degrees. Doing this helps heat and humidify the air you’re breathing before it gets to your lungs and may alleviate some of the strain.
Stay comfortable with layers. Dressing too warm can become uncomfortable. The Mayo Clinic suggests dressing in layers, which allows you to remove and add clothing as needed. In fact, there’s a method to dressing for exercise in cold weather. First, wear a layer of synthetic material that’s made to wick sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton which stays wet and can increase risk of hypothermia. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool to insulate your body. Then add a waterproof, breathable top later. Depending on the temperature, you may find two layers of pants more comfortable. Wear a bottom layer of synthetic material that will help pull sweat away from the body.
Protect your head, hands and feet. Blood flow concentrates in the body’s core, which leaves your head, hands and feet more vulnerable. The Mayo Clinic suggests wearing a thin pair of gloves made of wicking material under gloves lined with wool or fleece; you can always remove the outer pair if needed. If you plan to exercise outside in the winter often, consider buying shoes or hiking boots that are slightly larger than your usual size. This will allow for layers or thicker socks. Protect your head with a hat or a headband that covers your ears. A scarf or mask may also be helpful to protect your face.
Warm up before heading out and wear safety gear. According to Harvard Health Watch, foregoing a warm-up exercise increases the chance for strains and injuries. Exercises like arm circles and lunges can prepare your body for working out, especially in the cold. The Mayo Clinic says that if you plan to go out at night, wear reflective clothing. If you ride a bike, headlights and taillights may increase safety. Ensure footwear has the traction needed for the exercises you plan to do, especially if it’s snowy or icy. And don’t forget sunscreen! Sunburns and skin damage can happen in winter just like summer. In fact, snow reflects the sun’s rays, making it important to protect your skin. Wear sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays as well as lip balm with sunscreen. Protect your eyes with sunglasses and wear long sleeved shirts and pants to help protect your skin from damage.
Hydration. It may seem obvious but drinking plenty of water is just as important in the cold as it is in the heat. The Mayo Clinic suggests drinking water before, during and after being active even if you don’t feel very thirsty. In the cold, dehydration can be worsened by the dryness of the cold air.
How to stick with a routine and keep it interesting. Motivation may decrease during the colder months as days are shorter and chillier. To keep yourself going, Stanford University suggests exercising in smaller increments throughout the day or trying a shorter, more intense workout. Keep goal cards or inspirational notes in places you will see them to remind yourself why you began your physical activity routine in the first place. To keep it interesting, try a new activity. Get your friends, family or co-workers involved. And most importantly, have fun!
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!
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Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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