Tips for cold weather exercise

It seems like every year my patients and I have the same conversation about Father Winter and how he has snuck up on us, even though we live in the great Northeast. Others, however, wait with excited anticipation for the fun of winter sports. As a physical therapist, I treat many winter sport enthusiasts. Unfortunately, it is usually when an injury occurs.

Avoiding injury is the best medicine. So, as you begin to put on your skis, skates, snowboard, snowshoes or jump onto your snowmobile, consider some of these simple tips to help reduce injuries:

1. Prepare before. We’ve all experienced soreness after strenuous activity. The only way to alleviate this is to train for the activity before engaging in the sport. If you don’t have time to do this you can expect some soreness.

2. Warm up. Cold weather makes your muscles stiff and resistant to lengthening. A five-to-10 minute pre-exercise warm-up is very important to get your blood flowing and loosen muscles. Try marching in place, squats or light jogging followed by gentle leg and arm stretches.

3. Cool down. After you are done, fight the urge to drop into the car or lounge and take 10 minutes to gradually lower your heart rate and then gently stretch again. This is critical and usually overlooked. A good cool down can help restore range of motion, and lengthen and relax muscles.

4. Dress in layers. The base layer: This tight-fitting and wicking material wicks moisture and perspiration away from your skin. Good choices are silk, polyester, polypropylene and wool. Cotton is not a good choice as it traps moisture and pulls heat away from your body.

The mid layer: This insulates to keep you warm. A bit looser than the base layer, but to function properly it needs to maintain contact with the base layer. Mid layers also carry moisture away from the base layer. Common materials include down, polyester, fleece, wool and newer synthetic or natural blends.

The outer layer: This allows moisture to escape while blocking wind and repelling water. Outer layers include shells made of Gore-Tex or a similar material.

5. Don’t forget to keep your hands and feet layered too, and wear a hat and scarf.

6. Take lessons. If you are a beginner, learn from a professional. Hey, would you just jump out of an airplane to parachute without a guide tethered to you? Well then why would you ride to the top of a mountain and just start sliding down on two sticks!

7. Use properly fitted and adjusted equipment. Ill fitted or improper use of equipment greatly increases chance of injury. The recent tragic news of a young woman dying while skiing reminds us of the importance of wearing a helmet. So please, use your head and protect it!!

8. Stay hydrated. Unlike in the hot weather when we crave a tall glass of water, in cold weather we do not feel thirsty thus it is easy to become dehydrated. So keep your thermos close by and drink some hot chocolate or water often!

9. Know your surroundings. Watch for obstacles in your path. Any sudden slips, trips, bumps or thumps can cause a fall and a trip to the emergency room!

Now, go out and have a great time! Keep those muscles strong and joints moving.

Nancy McCormick of Burnt Hills, a licensed physical therapist, works at the Orthopaedic and Wellness Center in Gloversville. She can be reached at 773-2508.