STAYING PHYSICALLY ACTIVE THIS WINTER–By Michelle Gillis
Winter is long in Canada. It can feel even longer when you can’t fit in your usual exercise regime (or if you don’t have an established routine).
Whether you prefer to exercise indoors or outdoors, it’s important to do it safely to get the best results. At MedFit we use a medical exercise approach to help people develop a strategy when faced with the darker, colder, slipperier days of winter. So, whether you have pain, an injury, or condition such as arthritis, osteoporosis, or diabetes, we can guide you on the right path.
BENEFITS OF WINTER EXERCISE
You’ve probably heard the common benefits of exercise, such as weight management, muscle strengthening, and immune system enhancement. Winter exercise does all this, but it has its own special perks.
Winter can take a toll on your mood. Exercise has been shown to help fight SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and release neurotransmitters that keep us feeling happy and ease depression. And when the sun is out, you’ll get a mood and vitamin D boost (we may not get as much sun as people living further south, but every little bit helps). Just remember to wear sunscreen after exposure of more than 10 to 15 minutes.
Improves heart health
The challenge of exercising in cold weather makes your heart work harder to distribute blood throughout the body, thereby improving your overall health by strengthening your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Running, walking, snow-shoeing, skating, and cross-country skiing are all popular and effective options.
You’ll burn more calories
There is some debate about this. In theory, when your body works harder, it revs up your metabolism causing your body to burn more calories and fat to produce energy for your workout. Keep in mind though, any extra “burn” is minimal, so don’t think you can eat whatever you want without gaining weight.
OUTDOOR WINTER WORKOUT PREPARATION
Some things are non-negotiable to properly prepare your body and mind for exercising in cold weather.
Always warm up and cool down
You have to make time for these periods; they are, in fact, critical elements to your workout! With the drastic changes in internal and external temperature, you have to ensure your body is properly prepared for activity, as well as slowly bring it back to a resting state.
Too many people think exercise itself is enough to keep them warm, but that’s not correct. You should dress in layers so that you can easily take them off, if necessary. You need a hat to keep the heat from escaping through your head. Gloves, socks, and a scarf will protect your extremities to avoid frostbite. Make sure your footwear is appropriate for the temperature and ground conditions. You can buy traction devices to attach to your existing shoes, or look for styles with built-in traction.
People think they don’t need to drink as much water during the winter. But the body still sweats! It’s just that the sweat evaporates more quickly into the chilly, dry air, making it seem as though the body is losing less water. So, be sure to drink water before, during, and after your workout.
INDOOR WORKOUT PERKS
Aside from being warmer, one of the main reasons to enjoy indoor exercise is the variety of options. Of course, the same rules as outdoor exercise apply: always warm up and cool down, dress appropriately, and stay hydrated.
This is the perfect opportunity to expose your body to different training experiences. For example, if you’re used to running outdoors, running on a treadmill can feel very different. You can control your speed and incline in a more precise way. It’s also a bit easier on your joints. A variety of classes, instructors, and equipment allows you to experiment, and potentially reduce your risk of injury due to training in exactly the same way over a period of time.
Bottom line: Exercise is always the best prescription for optimum health and fitness. When in doubt, always ask a professional for advice, especially if you have health or medical issues that require special attention.
Michelle Gillis has been in the health and fitness industry for over 25 years. She is MedFit Rehab’s Director of Programs and Education. As an exercise gerontologist she works with people of all ages; teaching them how to make regular exercise a part of their life, whatever their age or condition. You can hear her every Monday and Tuesday, on the Zelda Young show (CHIN radio), talk about medical exercise issues.