Your Health

Taking on Old Man Winter

Our intrepid columnist offers up some secrets for keeping warm

Taking on Old Man Winter
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Winter activities

How to layer it on

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2010

It was mid-October when I stepped outside for a jog and was caught off guard by the chill in the air almost taking my breath away. We'd had a great fall, and I had been enjoying going out for a jog, walk or bike ride on most evenings after work.

Now what was I going to do? It's cold outside, and as an "import" to Manitoba from British Columbia, I've never really known how to dress well for Manitoba winters.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hibernate over the winter. I make an effort to get out and play in the snow, go ice skating, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or winter walking - but it comes with a lot of shivering and quite a bit of whining about how cold I am!

So, it was on that jog in October that I committed to writing this column on winter physical activity - to educate myself (and you) on how we can dress warmly, be prepared and enjoy our Manitoba winter, outdoors!

There may be a lot of reasons why you don't feel comfortable heading outside during the winter months. On the other hand, there may be lots of reasons why you don't want to be stuck indoors - the idea of running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike without going anywhere may not be your idea of a good time.

But winter does not have to mean decreased physical activity levels or boring stationary running and cycling. With some creativity, the right planning and a small investment in good clothing, you can be comfortable, warm and safe participating in outdoor physical activity this winter. With that in mind here are some tips:

Layer it on

I've learned it's all about layers, and wearing the right layers in the right order. Wearing multiple layers of thin clothing, rather than wearing one bulky layer, allows each layer to breathe, which helps prevent heat loss and gives you the flexibility to remove layers as you get warmer and then put them back on if you get cold.

Stay safe!

It can be icy outdoors, so keep an eye out for icy patches. To help prevent falls wear footwear with good tread or add traction aids to your shoes.

It gets dark a lot earlier in the evenings so you will want to wear reflective gear or carry a flashlight with you so people can see you and you can see where you are going. Recruiting a friend to come along with you is also a great way to stay safe and will help keep you motivated.

Another way you can stay safe is by warming up your body, muscles and lungs before heading outside. Doing some light jogging on the spot, running up and down the stairs, or dynamic stretching will all help get you ready to head outdoors and prevent injury.

What about my health?

For most people, being physically active in cold weather is safe and actually good for your overall health. When you first step outside, it might be a little hard to breathe or catch your breath, but don't worry, this is a natural feeling and it is not harmful to your lungs. As you breathe in cold air, your body warms it to body temperature before it arrives in your lungs, and therefore it is safe. Wearing a neck warmer up over your mouth might help you feel more comfortable until you get warmed up.

Regular physical activity will strengthen your immune system by boosting your natural defences to infection, which means that it won't prevent you from catching a cold or flu, but your body will be better prepared to fight it off, and faster. For people with asthma and cardiovascular disease planning to do moderate or vigorous physical activity, you should check with your healthcare provider first because your condition may be made worse in the cold air. Similar to summer months, you want to drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated from the cold, dry air.

Watch out for frostbite!

Your exposed skin (i.e., face) and extremities (i.e., feet & hands) can be susceptible to frostbite. Pay attention to your skin and if it changes colour, is cold and painful, numb and tingly, and looks swollen, pale and waxy, it may be time to take a break and warm up indoors. Slowly warm the affected area. Do not rub it.

As you can see, there are many ways you can stay "in motion" this winter by dressing right and trying out new activities. Outdoor winter activities can be a great way to spice up your typical physical activity routine and encourage you to get outside and enjoy the fresh, crisp air during our long . . . cold winter!!

Enjoy! I know I will.

Deanna Betteridge is a co-ordinator with Winnipeg in motion.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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