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Physical Activity in Colder Weather

October 31, 2011 by Marc Faktor, Certified Exercise Physiologist

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By now, if you’ve been reading my blogs I would hope that you’d agree that regular physical activity is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you are a first time reader, here are some of the health benefits that accompany regular physical activity participation: Health benefits of physical activity.

Despite what some individuals may think or practice, it’s important to note that regular physical activity is not defined as being active during the summer months and then hibernating like a bear in the winter until the nice weather comes back :P

Believe it or not, this happens a lot! People make some great lifestyle changes in the summer months and sometimes let these slip because they aren’t prepared for the elements! This is very maladaptive as the body needs to KEEP MOVING!

 In my profession, we see lots of injuries due to deconditioning over the cold season. We have to engrain the notion that the body needs to move on a daily basis no matter what! We cannot let the elements get in our way! If you take the time to get the proper game plan in place, NOTHING WILL GET IN YOUR WAY! Here are a couple tips to consider when getting active in the cold:

Keep Safety First!

  • Warm up and cool down thoroughly! It takes extra time to adjust to drastic temperature changes.
  • Keep well hydrated! People forget to drink in the cold. One cup of water (250 ml) for every 15-20 minutes of exercise is perfect.
  • Call the Physical Activity Line if you have asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, or Raynaud's disease. They will help generate a comprehensive plan of action to eliminate trouble in extreme temperatures.

Plan Ahead

  • Look at the weather forecast (watch for ice, wind and snow alerts), plan your routes and make sure you have a safety zone (wind eliminating) to hide out in if things get crazy.
  • Let friends and family know that you’re leaving the house and identify your route of choice. If you have a cell phone bring it with!

Be prepared for the Dark

  • As we all know, winter comes with extended darkness periods. It’s essential to be ready for this!
  • Use head lamps for visibility. They are less than $20 and work wonders for me on my evening jogs. If you have a small flashlight, this could work as well if needed.
  • Ensure to have reflective items on your clothing, shoes, strollers, bicycles and helmets so others, especially motorists can see you.

Dress Well & Layer Up!!!

  • Probably one of the most essential points. Lots of people forget that the body warms up during exercise as they are trying to combat the cold at resting body temperatures for most of the day. We generate a significant amount of heat when our bodies get moving and it is important to ensure this doesn’t drench us in sweat. Sweating is good; however, it could be our worst nightmare if caught wet in the cold. A good idea would be to use a three layer method:  synthetic moisture wicking (e.g. polyester, microfiber, or other patented tech.) shirt/long sleeve as a base layer (#1) (do not use cotton, as this soaks up the fluid and stays wet), followed by a fleece or wool garment (#2) and then a wind and water resistant outer shell (#3). The inner layer will keep from soaking up the fluid, your mid layer can act as a buffer and be removed if you’re getting steamy and your shell will protect you from wind and water!
  • Make sure your footwear is designed for the elements.
  • Ensure your head, ears, hands and feet are well insulated as well.

Have a list of indoor options for those “crazy days”

  • You can always implement a simple and easy workout at home consisting of calisthenics (own body weight exercises) and various aerobic drills (contact PAL today for advice).
  • Exercise videos are great.
  • Drop in to a fitness class at the local community center (cheap, easy and social!)
  • Go for a long mall walk (leave credit cards at home).

P.S. Here is a related Physical Activity Line resource: Physical Activity in Winter

Hope this helps and KEEP MOVING people! Sincerely, Marc Faktor, MSc., CSEP CEP®.

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Comments (5)

reggie3

Posted on Friday November 18, 2011 a 8:55am

Marc, I have enjoyed your series of blogs, very informative. A question for you though, can you provide some some advice/recommendations around physical activity in winter for seniors? My parents are very active in the summer, but when the winter months are here they tend to hibernate and their activity decreases. It worries me a bit and wondering if there is something easy to do that I can motivate them?

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Tuesday November 22, 2011 a 3:02pm

Dear Reggie3, Thank you for your comment and kind words! I truly hope that you have been able to benefit as a result of the information provided. I would also like to apologize for the delayed reply as I have been out of office for the past couple weeks. Nevertheless, your concern is of a great importance as this is very common. One of the best recommendations I can provide is to engage your parents with the community centers within your region. They generally offer great programming for seniors designed to keep them social, active, and thinking! Moreover, it is really important to stress that physical activity does not have to be done outside if the weather is risky. There are many exercises that can be done in the comfort of their homes and even the seat of a chair! Here is a link to a Physical Activity Line (www.physicalactivityline.com) fact sheet which highlights many valuable functional ability chair exercises: http://www.physicalactivityline.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=ar... In addition, my grandparents loved being social and around people. I would find that taking them to the mall for 30-60 minute walks was a great way to foster activity in a temperature controlled and hazard free environment. I would always start these walks with a brief stretch, and end them with some brief flexibility and strengthening exercises (similar to the ones in the fact sheet above). I hope this helps! If it doesn’t, please do not hesitate to contact the great folks at the Physical Activity Line for further assistance: 1-877-725-1149, www.physicalactivityline.com. Keep MOVING! Sincerely, Marc Faktor, MSc., CSEP CEP®

CarysAdams3

Posted on Friday November 18, 2011 a 4:36pm

Yeah, I'm guilty of hibernating like a bear in winter! Walking to work means I get built in exercise every day. I know not everyone can do this. I like your tips on dressing for the weather. I find it's cold once I get start but, as I get walking I start to warm up and feel comfortable!

CarysAdams3

Posted on Friday November 18, 2011 a 4:37pm

Yeah, I'm guilty of hibernating like a bear in winter! Walking to work means I get built in exercise every day. I know not everyone can do this. I like your tips on dressing for the weather. I find it's cold once I get start but, as I get walking I start to warm up and feel comfortable!

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Tuesday November 22, 2011 a 3:04pm

Dear CarysAdams3, Thank you for your comment and I sincerely apologize for the delayed reply as I have been out of office for the past couple weeks. I want to give you a huge high five (through the internet!) to commend you for taking the active commuting choice! Your body and mind will surely thank you! It is great to see that you are benefiting from the clothing tips, and as you have seen, the body surely does heat up as we get moving! You could even jump start the temperature in your body by doing a brief stretch, a few jumping jacks, skip some rope, and or lightly jog on the spot to get the blood flowing just prior to exiting the house (whichever best suites your current abilities). I also wanted to let you know that if you have any further physical activity questions, concerns, or would just like an expert to review your current schedule and provide advice, feel free to contact the Physical Activity Line: 1-877-725-1149, www.physicalactivityline.com. Keep up the great work! Sincerely, Marc Faktor, MSc., CSEP CEP®

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