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Cold Weather and Exercise – Staying Motivated When It Gets Chilly

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The importance of exercise doesn’t stop when the cold months are keeping people inside and close to the fireplace. With the hectic Holiday season over with, it’s time for exercising routines to get back on track and you don’t need to wait for warm weather to arrive to make that happen. Many patients with arthritis may get flare ups because of the weather, but following a few steps and keeping your body moving can help to curb the occurrences.

Here are a few tips from Dr. Carlos Prietto, CEO of Hoag Orthopedic Institute, on getting a good work out during the winter months:

  • Cold temperatures tighten your muscles, so do your core exercises and warm-ups inside.
  • Put on a hat, gloves and socks to protect your head, hands and feet from releasing too much body heat, which will chill your muscles, bones and ligaments and make them susceptible to injury.
  • Be careful when walking or running on icy pavement and snow, or participating in winter sports. These activities have a high risk of orthopedic injuries.
  • After exercising, go back inside to cool down and stretch: target your calves, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors.
  • To reduce the risk of a pulled muscle, match your activity level to the temperature. The colder the weather, the slower you should warm up and the easier you should exercise.

Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. First, put on a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. A heavy down jacket or vest may cause you to overheat if you’re exercising hard. If you’re lean, you may need more insulation than someone who is heavier. If it’s very cold, consider wearing a face mask or scarf to warm the air before it enters your lungs.

When it’s cold, blood flow is concentrated on your body’s core, leaving your hands and feet vulnerable to frostbite. Try wearing a thin pair of gloves under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. Wear the mittens or gloves before your hands become cold and then remove them if your hands begin to sweat.

You need to stay well hydrated when exercising in cold weather just as you do when exercising in warm weather. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout, even if you’re not really thirsty. You can become just as dehydrated in the cold as in the heat from sweating, breathing and increased urine production, but it may be harder to notice during cold weather.

Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears, but it also can occur on hands and feet, so it is important to know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. If you suspect frostbite, get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area — but don’t rub it since that can damage your skin. If numbness continues, seek emergency care.

Exercising in cold, rainy weather increases the risk of hypothermia, as does being an older adult. Hypothermia signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Seek emergency help right away for possible hypothermia.

Almost everyone can exercise safely during cold weather but if you have certain conditions, such as asthma, heart problems or orthopedic issues, check with your doctor before you work out in cold weather. Your doctor can review any special precautions you need based on your condition or medications you might take.