Making the Most of Winter Workouts

Health, Home & Family
on December 16, 2007

Regular physical activity is essential for good health, so don’t let winter put the chill on your outdoor exercise routine.

Considering the multiple health benefits that exercise provides, staying active should be a year-round goal. Exercise helps keep your heart and lungs healthy; strengthens bones, muscles and joints; helps control weight; improves mood; and reduces the risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.

According to the American Heart Association, healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 65 should get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week. If you don’t exercise regularly, are over 65 or have health problems, get your doctor’s approval before starting any new physical activity.

Following are some tips on how to prepare for cold-weather exercise and stay motivated all winter long.

Dress in layers. This allows air to be trapped and warmed between the layers of clothing. Wearing layers also allows you to remove an item of clothing and prevent potential overheating, says Dr. Robert Hosey, a physician at the University of Kentucky Sports Medicine Center in Lexington.

Start with a thin, lightweight layer made from a synthetic fabric, which will help wick sweat away from your skin. Follow with an insulating layer of down or polyester fleece and finish with an outer layer made of breathable nylon or Gore-Tex fabric, to help repel water and wind.

Protect exposed skin. Hands, nose and ears are especially vulnerable to frostbite. “Vaseline and ChapStick can help insulate and protect exposed skin,” Hosey says. Experts also recommend applying sunscreen to exposed skin. Scarves and face protectors also are useful. Wear a warm hat and gloves, too.

If you suspect frostbite, get out of the cold and seek treatment. “There’s not necessarily a lot of pain associated with frostbite,” Hosey notes. “Often the early warning signs are burning or tingling sensations.”

Have the right gear. Having the proper gear, like boots with ice-gripping treads, can help prevent injuries. “We see a lot of falls because of ice,” Hosey says. If you participate in activities such as snowboarding or skiing, wear a helmet. Sunglasses or goggles can protect your eyes from wind damage and alleviate the glare from ice and snow.

Vary your routine. Winter brings a wealth of new opportunities that can liven up a stale fitness routine. “Try substituting snowshoeing for walking or jogging, or cross country skiing for running,” says Jeanie Callen Barat, a personal trainer in San Diego, Calif. If it’s too cold to go outside, sign up for fun indoor classes like kickboxing, water aerobics or pilates. “Mixing it up will challenge your muscles in new ways,” Callen Barat says.

Stay hydrated. It’s just as important to stay hydrated during winter workouts as it is during the summer, so drink water or other fluids before, during and after activity—even if you’re not thirsty.

Prepare your muscles. If you plan to participate in strenuous winter activities, it’s important to condition your muscles. “I made the mistake of not conditioning ahead of time before my first snowboarding trip,” says Angella Hamilton, 36, of Phoenix, Ariz. “I was so sore. Now, I start snowboard conditioning months before a trip.”

Stay motivated. Having an exercise partner or instructor can help you stay motivated. “Winter is a good time to try a coach,” Callen Barat says. “It’s helpful to have someone outside yourself to help. Setting goals and getting a fitness buddy can also work well to help you stay motivated.”

Hamilton found snowboarding a way to connect with her teenage son. “This is one of the very few things he and I can do together—something we can have fun with outside of the sport too, by watching videos and practicing,” she says. “It gives us real quality time.”

Winter doesn’t have to put a freeze on your outdoor exercise routine. With a little preparation and a few precautions, you can stay active and fit throughout the season.