Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Stay safe when exercising this winter

For those of you who have New Year’s Resolutions for exercising this winter, here are some safety tips to remember when exercising in the cold:

Perform a warm up exercise. Before going outside to exercise, be sure to perform a gentle warm up exercise including stretching to help prevent injury once into the regular routine.

Dress properly. Wearing clothes that wick moisture away from your body is important to staying warm. Most sporting goods stores sell this type of clothing.

However, if you cannot afford to buy “moisture-wicking” clothes, dress in multiple, thinner, loose layers that can be easily removed and tied around your waist or tucked into a pocket once you’re your temperature rises. Loose layers will make sure to allow circulation and create a small insulating layer of air between.

If you are expecting to get wet from melting snow from sledding or skiing, you might want to wear a waterproof outer layer, but make it is “breathable.” A traditional raincoat would not be a good choice since it does not breathe well.

Depending on the temperature, wear a hat and gloves or mittens. A significant amount of heat can be lost through your head.

Since there is less light in the winter time, wear reflective clothing, carry a flashlight, or wear a head lamp.

When performing a winter sport, wear proper safety equipment including a helmet and goggles.

Stay hydrated: Although it is cold outside and you may feel like you’re not sweating (especially if you are wearing “moisture-wicking” material), you may still lose significant amounts of fluid from your body during winter exercise. Proper hydration is needed to regulate body temperature, which can help prevent frostbite, to warm the air you breathe making exercise easier on your lungs, and to help prevent cramping.

Be wary of wind chill: Strong winds or activities with speed increase chances of frostbite. Cover exposed skin. Plan ahead and exercise with the wind on your return trip since you may be sweatier towards the end of exercising and the wind will be at your back, which will help to preserve heat.

Avoid sunburn: Remember the sun reflects off snow and ice, which can cause sunburn. Wear sunscreen or sunglasses if sunny and/or cover exposed skin.

Know signs of frostbite/hypothermia: Cold, hard, pale skin may be frostbite. Get into a warm environment and slowly warm the affected skin. Don’t use hot water or rub the skin, as you may cause further damage. If symptoms do not change or you witness signs of hypothermia (severe shivering, loss of motor skills and speech, or fatigue), seek emergency help.

Cold weather exercise can be fun and help you get the results you want. But remember to be careful when you are dealing with changeable New England winter conditions.

Geoffrey Fabry is a physical therapist and Supervisor of Outpatient Rehabilitation at the Backus Outpatient Care Center in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Fabry and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org, or comment on their blog at backushospital.org.

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