Important tips for winter workout safety

January 5, 2021 in Health Risk Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
winter workout

If the gym has been your go to place to work out once the weather turns cold, rainy, and snowy, you may be reconsidering that plan this winter. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, workouts at crowded indoor gyms may put you at risk of contracting the virus. Fortunately, there are several other ways you can stay active without spending time at the gym.

If you aren’t ready to try an outdoor workout, there’s a wealth of online workout programs covering most every type of workout, from cardio and strength training to yoga, Pilates, and barre. Another option—some personal trainers now offer virtual training sessions via video chat.

But if you are ready to venture outdoors with your workout, there are many different types of activities that can help you stay active, burn calories, and strengthen your muscles while you get some fresh air. Consider trying walking, running, hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, or ice skating. As always, especially if you’ve been less active during the pandemic, check with your primary care physician to make sure the winter workout you want to try is an appropriate choice for you.

Staying safe during your winter workout

Following these winter workout tips can not only keep you safer while exercising outside, they can also help you be more comfortable so you’ll be more likely to stick with your workout.

  • Choose layers that keep you warm and dry: Rather than donning a heavy coat, it’s wise to dress in layers that you can unzip or remove as your body temperature rises during exercise. Your base layer should be made of a thin synthetic material that wicks sweat away from your skin. A fleece or wool layer for insulation is next, followed by a waterproof and wind proof shell. How heavy the shell is will depend on how cold it is where you’re working out. Keep your head and ears, which are especially vulnerable to frostbite, protected from the cold with a hat or fleece or wool headband
  • Protect your feet and hands: Like your ears, your hands and feet are vulnerable to frostbite because blood flow is more concentrated in your core when temperatures are low. Wear thicker than usual socks, preferably made of a blend of wool for warmth and a synthetic to wick away moisture, and if you’re wearing running shoes, look for ones that don’t have mesh panels that let in the cold and wet. Depending on the temperature, consider wearing two pairs of gloves—one thin pair made of moisture wicking material covered by heavier gloves with a fleece or wool lining.
  • Keep your skin and eyes safe from UV rays: Even when it’s cold out, you need sunscreen on your exposed skin, including your face and lips, and sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays, which can be especially intense when reflected off snowy surfaces.
  • Make sure you can be seen: If you work out in the morning or evening, wear a reflective vest or clothing with reflective markings to make you more visible to drivers. Choose brighter colored workout gear to avoid blending in with your surroundings. There are also wearable flashlights and headlamps that can both help you see better and help others see you more clearly.
  • Stay hydrated: You may not feel as thirsty during a winter workout as you do during the summer, but you’re still losing fluid through sweat and breathing drier air. Drink water before and after your workout to ensure you’re adequately hydrated.
  • Counteract slippery surfaces: If you’re running or walking in the snow or ice, you risk slipping and falling. One option to help decrease that risk is to add slip-on ice and snow grips that fit around the soles of your shoes.
  • Make sure someone knows where you’ll be: If you’re hiking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing, make sure you share your route and planned timetable with a friend or family member and ask them to check and make sure you’ve made it home. If you haven’t, they can alert the authorities and provide your route so they know where to search. You could also share your location via an app on your phone or smartwatch. Even if you’re just going for a run or walk near home, let someone know your plans so that if you fall or are injured, they can send help.
  • Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia: Even if you’ve taken precautions, you could find yourself at risk for frostbite or hypothermia. Knowing the symptoms of these conditions and seeking help quickly are important. The early signs of frostbite include numbness, loss of feeling, and/or a stinging sensation on the affected areas. The signs of hypothermia include intense shivering, fatigue, confusion, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and impaired vision.
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