Saturday, January 21, 2012

Exercise Tips for Winter Weather – Cold Injury Prevention

Winter Fitness Tips © Katrena
Many people make a New Year's resolution to become more active and exercise regularly only to discover that winter weather may serve up a roadblock to those plans. Find practical tips for safely exercising in colder months.

How to Stay Fit During Colder Weather © Katrena
Be Prepared for Ice and Snow

Those who live in areas in which temperatures may fall near or below the freezing mark may wish to have a winter exercise back-up plan for exercise, especially if road conditions are too dangerous for driving. Sometimes the weather may actually provide a great family fitness opportunity. My kids love for me to pull them all over the back yard in the sled or to have a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Playing outside in the snow can certainly serve as a great workout, but someone who is typically sedentary who is shoveling snow may quickly become seriously ill.

Prepare for Cold Weather Exercise © Katrena
If planning to exercise in colder temperatures, keep several safety issues in mind:
  • Check with a healthcare provider before exercising outside in colder temperatures to ensure that it will be a safe option.
  • Use common sense – exercising outdoors during cold weather might be unsafe for someone of any fitness level under certain circumstances.
  • It helps to let someone know when you are planning to exercise, where you plan to go, and when you plan to return, especially if hiking in a remote location during winter months.
  • Layer clothing (synthetic next to skin to wick away moisture, fleece or wool for warmth, waterproof clothing for the outer layer) and be prepared to remove and replace clothing. Wet clothing will not help to prevent hypothermia.
  • Protect hands and fingers with gloves and/or mittens. A waterproof outer layer can help protect the hands from frostbite.
  • Protect feet and toes with thick, warm socks and/or layers of socks. Consider carrying an extra pair of socks.
  • Protect the head and ears with a hat, toboggan, scarf, ski mask, etc. Ensure that the ears are covered.
  • Consider wearing waterproof footwear designed for the weather conditions.
  • Remember to drink appropriate fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Protect skin and eyes by using sunscreen (at least 30 SPF), lip balm, and sunglasses.
  • Wear a helmet when participating in certain winter sports, such as snowboarding.
  • Consider carrying a cellular telephone or some other way of calling for help if necessary and avoid exercising in cold temperatures alone.
  • Move into the wind at the beginning of the workout if possible so that the wind will be at your back when heading back home.

Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite © Katrena
Watch for Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite

Many factors may place someone at an increased risk for injury or health issues while exercising outside in the winter, such as:
  • Colder temperatures, especially if the wind is blowing and/or if there is precipitation
  • Staying outside for long periods of time
  • Age factors, such as those who are 60 years old or older or those who are young, especially infants less than one year
  • Certain health conditions, such as asthma, Raynaud's phenomenon, hypothyroidism, certain heart problems, balance issues, or dementia.
  • Some medications may make a person more vulnerable to low temperatures
  • Poor nutrition
  • The use of alcohol

Frostbite is more likely to occur in exposed areas of the body or the extremities, such as the fingers, toes, ears, and nose. This condition occurs if that part of the body is exposed to cold temperatures for too long.

Symptoms of frostbite include:
  • Cold, hard, pale skin
  • Numbness, although an aching pain may occur

Immediately move to a warm, dry area and avoid rubbing the skin if frostbite has occurred. As the area begins to thaw, the area will usually become red and the person will likely experience a painful burning or tingling sensation. Seek medical attention for serious cases of frostbite because blood vessels may be affected.

People who have frostbite can also develop hypothermia. Hypothermia is defined as having a body temperature less than or equal to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The condition can result in death, particularly in vulnerable populations, and anyone with hypothermia should seek immediate emergency care by trained professionals.

Symptoms of hypothermia include:
  • Pale skin and shivering (early) – infants may have bright red skin
  • Changes in behavior and thinking – confusion is common and may prevent the person from seeking help appropriately
  • Stiffness in the arms, hands, and legs
  • Lack of coordination or the inability to move
  • Drowsiness, feeling very tired
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slurred or difficult to understand speech
  • Blood pressure and pulse may decrease, become weak, or have unexpected pauses

Options for Staying Safe and Fit in Winter Months © Katrena
Consider Exercising Indoors During Winter Weather

If conditions prevent a person from safely exercising outside during colder weather, consider indoor activities, such as indoor sports, gyms, walking in a mall, or exercising at home, if appropriate. Having a few dumbbells, a resistance band, stability ball, and a jump rope might be quite helpful in creating a great home workout. Exercise videos and podcasts, a boot camp style workout with a list of exercises, or dancing to some favorite tunes may help you to stay on track with a fitness routine despite harsh winter weather.

When exercising outside during colder weather, ensure that the exercises are safe and know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia so that you may seek appropriate shelter and care to prevent serious injury.

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