Staying fit in winter

Exercising outside in Midwest winters doesn't have to feel like drudgery; it can be fun if you take a few precautions to make sure you are protected from slips, falls and frostbite.

Playing around outdoors this winter can burn calories and get you in shape.
If you do venture outside for your exercise, take some precautions.
Finding fitness and fun in winter
Dress for success during winter fun*
Winter and the senior citizen


A chill in the air? Don’t hibernate – invigorate!

Playing around outdoors this winter can burn calories and get you in shape.

Take the kids sledding ... or take yourself sledding and feel like a kid again.

An hour of sledding or tubing and hauling yourself back up the hill can burn between 350 and 450 calories. The great thing about sledding, it feels more like fun than working out. It’s also a great time to make memories.

So what are you waiting for? Dress in layers, put on a scarf to warm up the air entering your lungs, warm up your muscles, and get outside this winter and get moving.

Calorie-burning* activities that make "working out" fun:

Skating 511
Hockey 475
Cross-country skiing 496
Downhill skiing 314
Snowboarding 381
Snowshoeing 533

*Calories burned per hour. May vary based on weight and intensity of the exercise

Just 20 minutes of exercise a week can boost your mood; 20 minutes a day can boost your health. So what are you waiting for?

Dress appropriately and get outside and get moving.


If you do venture outside for your exercise, take some precautions.

Ryan Poller, PTA, a physical therapist assistant with Ministry Our Lady of Victory Hospital Rehab Services offers a few tips to stay safe when exercising outdoors in the winter.

"One of the main hazards of exercising outdoors in a Wisconsin winter is the potential for slipping and falling on icy or snowy surfaces," Poller said. "Consider investing in a product that you can place over your boots for additional traction, such as Yak Trax®.

"Another major concern is frostbite, which can happen quickly. Your mother was right – you should bundle up before you go out. Dress in layers. Several thin layers are better than one thick layer. Your strategy should be to protect yourself from wind chill and moisture. Although you might have a supply of cotton long underwear, consider investing in a higher-tech layer, such as long underwear made with polypropylene that will wick moisture away from your body.

"Another aspect of winter – it’s dark! Wear reflective clothing, or purchase a vest with reflective material.

"Lastly, inhaling frigid air can be harmful to your lungs, and even your heart. Wrap a scarf around your face or wear a mask – something so that the air is warmed before it enters your lungs."


Finding fitness and fun in winter

As the days get shorter and darker, it is sometimes hard to find the motivation to exercise. It can be a lot easier if you find a winter activity that you enjoy. The added benefit of winter activity is that it can keep you in shape.

Snowmobiling is thought of more as fun than it is thought of as an exercise, but surprisingly, you can burn about 240 calories per hour. To be safe, wear a helmet with a visor and make sure that you are dressed warmly and in layers to prevent frostbite.

When you think of winter activities, horseback riding may not be on the top of your mind, but it can be just enjoyable in the winter as in the summer. For every hour that you ride, your body will burn about 330 calories. Just be aware of ice to keep you and your steed safe.

Winter is also a great time to take a hike. Your legs will get a work out as you burn up to 450 calories per hour.


Dress for success during winter fun*

One key to enjoying winter activities is to dress for the occasion. Preparing to exercise in the cold weather takes a little bit of knowledge and the right equipment to stay safe, warm and dry.

Layer it on. When you start your winter exercise program, you might want to start in the bedroom ... where your clothes are. As you consider the temperature and the activity, plan to dress for success. Think dry first and warm second.

Use a light-weight, high-tech, tight-fitting, wicking material next to your skin. A tight-fitting compression-type garment will increase circulation, support your muscles and keep you warm. When you sweat, this material will draw the moisture away from your skin and help you stay dry. When you are wet from sweat you lose body heat and you’ll be chilled and miserable.

Build a good foundation. You might want to avoid cotton. It tends to hold moisture and not wick it away. The best material for your first layer is a synthetic fiber, such as polyester, nylon or polypropylene. These fabrics wick away moisture twice as fast as cotton.

Insulate with care. With a synthetic, lightweight wicking layer underneath to keep you dry, you can start thinking about warmth.

The temperature will determine the next layer. If it is very cold outside, your next layer may be polar fleece for more warmth.

If the temperature is moderate, you might want to skip the polar fleece and opt for an outer shell layer. This outer layer should repel moisture and break the wind. Lightweight nylon for cool days or heavyweight Gor-tex®-type materials for frigid temperatures are great for the outside layer.

Being overdressed is better than being underdressed, except during exercise. Adding too many layers will not only make you hot, sweaty and uncomfortable, it will also put you at risk for dehydration and chills as you sweat.

Remember to ventilate. It’s important to know your body. When you dress in layers, you can remove them when your body gets warm. If you have a water-repellent outer layer, it will keep the moisture trapped between your skin and the outside. If you start to heat up, open the zipper so the moisture has a chance to escape.

Don’t forget to protect your skin. The best way to prevent dry, itchy winter skin, is to hydrate from the inside out. Cold outside temperatures often mean dry skin. Drink plenty of fluids, at least 64 ounces a day, and use a good moisturizing cream or lotion after your bath or shower.

Sunburn in winter? It happens more than you think, especially if there is snow on the ground. You get the rays twice; once from the sun and once of the reflection of the snow. Make sure that you use a suntan lotion for your face and ears and apply lip balm with a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF.

If you are exercising or playing in the mountains, sunscreen can be even more important. Did you know that, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation your exposure to UV rays increases up to 10 percent for every 1,000 feet of elevation? That means that your sunburn risk increases.

And don’t forget to protect your eyes. Use goggles or sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.

Protect your fingers and toes. During cold weather, your body redirects your blood flow to the core of your body to keep your vital organs warm. This means there is less the blood that flows to your extremities.

It’s important that you keep your hands and feet warm and dry. Wearing wool or synthetic socks as an under-layer will help wick the moisture away. Then you can add an outer insulation area. Make sure you cover your feet with the appropriate shoes. This will help you avoid frostbite.

If you run in winter, you might want to consider an airtight covering for your running shoe. This will help keep your feet warm as you workout.

Brighten up your activity. There are several reasons that it is safer to wear a bright outer layer. Dressing in bright colors or reflective gear will help drivers see you if you are running or walking on the road. It will also make it easier to see you if you are lost in the woods and people are searching for you.

Warm up, for winter fun. It’s always a good idea to warm up before you exercise, it might be even more important before cold-weather workouts. It is best to warm up before you go outside, but if you’re not able to, you can warm-up slowly as you start your activity. Warming up first will help you prevent strains and sprains.

Start walking into the wind. If you work out on a windy winter day, you will want to start with the wind in your face. Wind in winter comes with a wind chill. This combined with your body heat can make you feel colder. As you work out and your body will heat up and you may sweat. Running or walking into the wind increases the wind chill factor, running or walking with the wind at your back can reduce the wind chill.

You need to cool it. It is always important to cool down after exercise. It helps reduce muscle soreness, eliminates lactic acid and is creates less stress for your heart. To cool down, just slow your pace for the final 10 minutes until your breathing and heart rate return to normal. After your cool down, don’t forget to stretch each muscle for 30 seconds.

After you exercise, make sure you peel off your sweaty clothes right away. A warm shower can remove the sweat that remains on your body. This will keep you from catching a chill and will help you feel warm and toasty.

*Source: Mayo Clinic.


Winter and the senior citizen

It is hard, and may be unadvisable, for some seniors to hazard the ice and snow of winter, but that doesn’t mean that they have to stay inside and be sedentary for six months. There are plenty of indoor activities that can keep seniors’ bodies moving and keep their minds sharp.

While Playing Bingo will probably not build muscles, it can build brain cells. It also is a great way for seniors to socialize and build relationships.

Seniors can still walk in the winter without fear of slipping on the ice and snow. Many area malls open their facilities to walkers before the retail shops open for business. It is also possible to walk through the mall when the stores are open.

If malls are not nearby, investing in a gym membership or investing in a treadmill can help seniors stay in shape during the cold days of winter.

A stationary bike also allows seniors to get aerobic exercise without the fear of falling. There are plenty of exercises that seniors can do indoors that will allow them to stay healthy and fit.

Bowling is a fun way for seniors to meet new people, while staying in shape, toning muscles, and building strength while they have fun.

Swimming at a local YMCA or community pools gives seniors a way to stay in shape during the winter. Aquatic exercise is a great way to exercise without too much stress on joints and muscles.

Dancing is a fun way to burn calories and get cardio exercise at the same time. Square dancing, ballroom dancing, country line dancing and Zumba® all fit in the dancing catergory. Seniors can find a dance style that appeals to them and investigate the opportunities and join the fun.

Weight training is a great exercise regime for seniors. Gyms and trainers can help seniors create a customized program to help them stay in shape, build muscle and sometimes relieve pain.

Gaming technology, which was once thought of as the technology for the young, is now making a play in the lives of seniors. Many game systems now offer interactive ways to exercise, play golf when the greens are white, play tennis when the court is blanketed in snow or learn some new dance moves. For a small investment, these systems provide a great way to get exercise indoors when the weather outside makes exercising a challenge. A gaming system can keep seniors’ bodies and minds engaged when the weather outside is less than accommodating. One word of caution, before seniors start using a gaming system for exercise, they should talk to their healthcare providers to make sure they are working at a level that matches their health.

One simple and easy exercise to stay fit in the winter is to do laps on the stairs. Walking up and down the stairs is a fantastic way to stay in shape, get cardio exercise and burn calories this winter.

Don’t forget to exercise your brain. While winter makes outdoor exercises physically challenging for some, it provides a great opportunity for you to exercise your mind. There are many classes that take place in the winter. You can learn to cook, sew, quilt, and paint. Enrolling in a class or joining a book club are great ways to meet new people and keep your mind sharp.


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