No gym membership? No treadmill? No problem. All you need to get fit this winter is the great outdoors — and a little know-how. We asked Beaumont Health System’s Dr. Joe Guettler, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon, to share his tips for staying safe while getting fit outside in the cold.
Guettler says it’s most important to avoid exposure. Frostbite risk (and the less severe “frostnip”) increases as air temperature falls to near zero — even with low wind. In negative double digits, frostbite can occur in minutes. Keep your skin covered — and wear a mask to keep your lungs safe. Warning signs of frostbite include numbness, loss of feeling, and a burning sensation. Run chilled limbs under warm water once inside. See a doctor if necessary. Body temperature loss, or hypothermia, is another concern. Symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, slurred speech, and confusion. Don’t take them lightly, Guettler says. “This is a medical emergency. You need to seek treatment right away.”
Dress in layers (but not too many)
Think 15-20 degrees higher than the actual temperature. You’ll be generating a lot of energy, and overheating is just as big of a problem as excessive heat loss. The heavier the clothing you wear, the more your body will sweat. And spending too much time in cold, wet clothes can leave you chilled. Guettler says a base layer of special long underwear such as Under Armour, followed by fleece and a wind and waterproof jacket should do you just fine.
Choose the right fabrics
Avoid cotton clothes, as they can become soaked with sweat quickly; a better option is wool or polyester. Those with less body fat may need to add more layers (they have less natural insulation). After your workout, remove cold, damp clothes quickly and shower to wash off sweat and prevent rash.
Map routes ahead of time
That way, you’ll know which streets are salted and which are still icy. This is a good idea year-round, but especially in winter: “It’s important that you never get caught away from shelter, in particular if a storm is coming,” says Guettler.
Check the forecast
Knowing the precipitation and wind chill is helpful when setting the exercise session length. If you go out while it’s snowing, motorists may not be able to see you. Wear reflective gear and stick to sidewalks
Always stretch out
Warm-up exercises are crucial to prevent injury. “Cold muscles are more easily injured,” Guettler says. The general rule is to warm up for 10 minutes when the weather is between 35 and 45 degrees. Add five minutes to the warm-up for every 10-degree drop below 35 (wind chill included).
Use safety equipment
“I can’t stress enough how dangerous concussions are,” Guettler says. “I see them in skiing, hockey … even sledding.” Wear a helmet. If you experience dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, loss of consciousness, and a headache, seek medical attention.
Know your limits
Guettler says he sees “a lot of injuries due to fatigue. People wanting one more mile, or one more run down the slopes. They get tired and strain muscles, or fall. You need to be careful and make sure you’re not going too far.”
Hydration is key
“You need to hydrate before, during, and after exercise,” Guettler says. “Water is great for short-term workouts, but long term, you really need electrolytes. Try to find a sports drink that’s high in carbs and low in sugar.”
Not into running?
“Cross-country skiing is pretty much the greatest sport known to man,” Guettler says. “It’s great exercise, and just about anyone can do it. It’s low impact and perfect for all age groups.” By staying hydrated and wearing the proper clothing and gear, there’s no excuse not to get into shape this season.