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Wellness: Winterize Your Workouts

Wellness: Winterize Your Workouts

Developing and maintaining a fitness routine can be very rewarding, and when cold weather disrupts your healthy habits, it can be disappointing and hard to keep up with your wellness commitment.

But falling temperatures don't mean that your exercise routine has to fall off too! Taking the proper precautions can ensure that you can safely continue to enjoy the outdoors, and when conditions aren’t cooperating you can find indoor activities to meet your fitness goals.

There’s help for SAD

Studies show that being outside and being active can both be good for your mental health, especially during winter when many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons and it affects an estimated 10 million Americans.

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD include oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, and tiredness or loss of energy. The cause of SAD remains unknown, but some contributing factors include disruption of your biological clock and serotonin and melatonin levels—all of which are affected by the winter months.

Regular physical activity and a healthy diet may help, as they’re both associated with boosting serotonin levels. Talk to your Primary Care doctor about any symptoms or severe mood changes you experience.

Know the risks, be prepared

Making the transition to cold weather can have a negative impact on certain people, especially those with underlying conditions. Knowing what to look for and being prepared can make all of the difference.

In general, if you plan on working out during the winter months you should:

    • Let friends and family know where you’re going, do not leave areas of your skin exposed, watch for signs of health problems, and be prepared to take emergency shelter during a storm.
    • Do not ignore shivering. It’s a sign that your body is losing heat, and it’s time to go inside.
    • Dress warmly and stay dry. Inner layers should include fabrics like wool, silk, or polypropylene that hold more body heat and don’t absorb moisture. Insulation layers help to retain heat by trapping air close to the body. Your outermost layer protects from wind, rain, and snow. It should be tightly woven and water and wind-resistant.
    • Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia (if you don’t, continue reading).
    • Stay away from ice. Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on icy sidewalks, steps, and driveways. Use rock salt, sand, and other chemical deicing compounds to reduce the risk of slipping.

Cold weather can mean an increased risk of:

    • Heart attack: Cold weather puts stress on your cardiovascular system, causing your arteries and veins to tighten and your blood to thicken. When your arteries tighten, they become narrower, and your circulation decreases. Exercising in cold weather causes your heart to work harder than it would during a workout in a comfortable temperature. This can lead to a heart attack, especially if you have underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. When exercising in the cold, warm up beforehand and take frequent breaks
    • Asthma attacks: Cold, dry air causes the air passages in the lungs to contract. If you have asthma, this means cold air can cause a significant decrease in lung function, making it difficult to breathe. Always travel with your inhaler in cold weather. If you have an asthma attack, seek immediate medical help.
    • Joint pain: Cold weather may increase joint pain, especially if you have arthritis. Instead of walking or jogging outside, choose a different type of physical activity like taking an aerobics or yoga class, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and stretching or doing light exercises while watching TV.

Avoiding frostbite and hypothermia

Older adults, babies, people who remain outdoors for lengthy periods during cold weather, and people who drink alcohol or use drugs are at high risk for hypothermia. However, everyone is susceptible to injury sustained from cold weather, so take measures to protect yourself.

Hypothermia is caused when your body loses heat faster than it is produced. Low body temperature can affect your brain, making you unable to think clearly or move well. As your body temperature lowers, your organs begin to shut down to preserve heat. Symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness.

Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing skin. It leads to loss of feeling and color in the skin and can permanently damage the body. It typically affects extremities like the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. A white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness may be a sign of frostbite.

To reduce your risk, always dress appropriately for the weather by covering your head, neck, and ears. If you exercise outside, wear layers, a hat, insulated gloves, and thick socks. If you suspect frostbite or hypothermia, go to the emergency room immediately.

If you or your loved one is experiencing any of these signs of hypothermia or frostbite, or body temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, seek medical attention immediately. If help is not immediately available, take action. Get into a warm room or shelter. Remove any wet clothing. Warm under dry layers of blankets and clothing, and place areas affected by frostbite in warm-to-touch water. Since frostbit skin may be numb, practice special caution when treating frostbite:

  • Do not use a fireplace, heat lamp, radiator, or stove for warming
  • Do not use a heating pad or electric blanket for warming
  • Unless necessary, do not walk on feet or toes with frostbite
  • Do not rub or massage areas with frostbite

In the event of a cold-weather injury or emergency, both the Frederick Health Urgent Care and Emergency Department are ready to help you. Not sure where to go? Learn more here and stay safe this winter!