Preparing for Old Man Winter

By: Lisa M. Schoene, DPM, ATC

Cold weather is here and if you enjoy being outside and like to exercise, the temperature should not bring a halt to your favorite winter workouts. However, there are some precautions to consider for an effective and safe workout.

The clothing that you wear can make or break a workout or activity. Layering is the key to retaining body heat and the material can help with keeping you dry. In layering clothes, the first layer is meant to be thin and to keep the moisture from sitting on the skin. A material that wicks the moisture away will be most beneficial to you. This may either be a polyester or polypropylene material. Both will not hold moisture, are easy to care for, and are lightweight. The rest of the layers can be of varying thickness depending on the temperature and specific activity being performed. Remember to always wear a hat, since 40-50% of body head can be lost via the unprotected head. Proper gloves and socks are important to prevent frostbite as well. Mittens will be warmer than gloves because the fingers can share the heat. Wear high calf length socks to also keep the heat in.

Fluid replacement is just an important in cold weather as in hot weather. Heat stress can result from dehydration combined with heavy exertion; this can lead to inferior performance. Remember to drink more water if: * you are traveling by air-airplane air is dry and may rob the body of moisture, and * you are exercising at higher altitudes, "the higher the drier".

Pre-season or cold weather conditioning is important especially if this is your season and you have been less active in the summer months. When conditioning for any sport or activity it is possible to enhance performance as well as prevent injury by combining flexibility work, strength work, and aerobic fitness.

Flexibility exercises are crucial. Stretching will increase blood flow to muscles, relieve muscle tension, and prepare the body for movement, therefore reducing the change of injury.

Strength work is important to prepare the muscles for the activity. Concentrate on the muscles used for the specific sport and work on those. Incorporate activities that will simulate the intended work.

Aerobic fitness is also very important. 30 minutes 3-4 times a week is considered a good way to improve your cardiovascular endurance. Improving the aerobic capacities of the lunges will enhance the recuperation time for many anaerobic activities like down-hill skiing, and paddle tennis which is a favorite cold winter sport.

Our bodies will respond to the cold by shunting blood to the core of the body, robbing it from the extremities. It will also affect metabolism, by slowing it. As our bodies cool the blood vessels constrict leaving our fingers, toes, and face vulnerable to frostbite, and decreased sensation. Frostbite is preventable by using common sense.

Workout/exercise with a partner. The buddy system works well for cross-country and downhill skiers. Remember layering techniques are important this allows removal of one layer at a time if the weather warms. Hats, gloves, mittens, socks and shoes are important too. Stay hydrated, well conditioned, maintain proper nutrition. Avoid caffeine and alcohol due to their dehydration abilities.

If you have been out in the cold for an extended period of time be aware of the signs of hypothermia which include: constant shivering, apathy, slurring of speech, rigidity of muscles, sleepiness, and impaired judgment. Try to remain calm; becoming anxious can increase heart rate, therefore shunting blood from the extremities.

To treat hypothermia get out of the cold. Start warming by removing wet clothing, putting on warm and dry clothing, adding blankets, and drinking warm fluids. Continue to monitor for additional signs of hypothermia and avoid going outside until completely recovered. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Exercising in the cold weather can be fun and exhilarating if proper simple precautions are taken. Being prepared can mean the difference in getting injured and having fun.

Dr. Schoene is a podiatrist specializing in the treatment of runners, dancers and athletes. She also counsels her patients on proper foot care and shoe guidelines.