COLD WEATHER SAFETY
If your clients live in a region that fully experiences the four seasons, cold, snowy weather creates opportunities for special winter workouts, such as Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice-skating on a frozen pond, sledding, hiking, and skijoring. Some people, though, like to stick with standard activities such as running and cycling, which can prove dangerous during this time of year.
The Risks of the Road
• Falls, sprains, and strains: Cinders, salt, and potholes, which are common on roads during the winter, make surfaces, uneven, while snow and ice make roads more treacherous, opening the possibility for missteps, slips, and spills and the resulting injuries.
• Overuse injuries: Winter road conditions may require runners to alter their stride or cyclists to use different cycling gears or more upper body strength to control the bike. Muscles and joints, unaccustomed to these movements, can be injured from the strain.
• Collision with vehicles: In the summer, drivers expect to see outdoor exercisers on the roads and are more aware. In the winter, however, they generally more focus on road conditions.
In addition, runners and cyclists may need to run further out from the shoulder because of plowed snow piles, pushing them closer or on to the main part of the road.
• Collision with deer: Cyclists are just as likely to encounter deer running into the road as drivers, and serious injury and deaths have occurred. Cycling at dawn or dusk increases the risk of collision with deer and also diminishes visibility for cyclists and drivers.
To minimize the risks associated with wintry roads, runners can try a local school’s running track, and runners and cyclists can investigate local parks that may have plowed paved trails. If schedules allow, they can exercise between 9 am and 3 pm to avoid exercising at dawn or dusk and during heavy commuter traffic.
For runners, going off the main road not only eliminates road risks, but also increases workout intensity. Running in fresh snow on the trails and fields is a great strength and cardiovascular workout.
Cold temperatures and winds also impact health. Clinical studies of outdoor competitive athletes have documented detrimental side effects of vigorous training in cold conditions. A higher prevalence of exercise-induced asthma, bronchial constriction, and other respiratory symptoms have been reported in competitive cross-country skiers and biathletes, downhill skiers, and ice skaters.
Cold, dry air causes water and heat loss from the respiratory tract, which in turn increases susceptibility to respiratory side effects, while exposure to outdoor air pollutants causes further irritation.
Bronchoscopies of endurance athletes have shown airway inflammation and tissue remodeling.
Exercise-induced asthma has been linked to the increased breathing rate during vigorous exercise and repeated exposure to cold air.
Researchers have noted that it’s currently unknown whether these airway changes are reversible if cold air exposure is halted. They advise preventive measures to decrease exposure to cold temperatures in winter athletes.
Other researchers have shown that repeated exertion in cold weather stresses the body’s immune system in addition to causing circulatory and metabolic changes. Consequently,
Some winter exercises may have an immune system impairment and an increased susceptibility to infection.
Hypothermia, frostbite, and dehydration also are dangers for outdoor winter exercisers. Drier winter air means athletes dehydrate faster. Many exercisers may not pay close attention to hydration in the winter like they do in the summer, when heat and sweat serve as reminders to drink water. Long-distance runners and cyclists risk hypothermia and frostbite if extremities aren’t protected properly during extended workouts in below-freezing temperatures.
Clients can minimize cold weather risks by doing the following:
• Invest in appropriate workout clothing. Though more expensive, clothing specially designed for cold weather exercise prevents hypothermia, blisters, and chafing. Wearing a cap, gloves, and a lightweight wind-resistant outer layer can reduce discomfort from wind and cold.
• Wear shoes and socks that insulate against winter conditions. Shoes appropriate for summer running and cycling generally aren’t designed to withstand winter weather.
• Wear a balaclava or sports mask. Covering the mouth and nose will warm and humidify the cold air, potentially decreasing adverse effects associated with breathing cold, dry air during training.
• Change bike tires to accommodate slippery roads. A cycling supply store or local cycling club can provide information on winter cycling gear.
Taking Workouts Indoors
Winter exercisers may resist bringing workouts indoors for various reasons. However, clients actually can improve exercise technique and physical fitness by moving indoors during inclement weather. Offer the following suggestions to motivate avid outdoor winter exercisers to take their workouts indoors, especially when temperatures drop below 20˚F:
• Use treadmills, indoor elliptical trainers, and indoor cycles to customize workouts to improve technique. For example, work on hill running or cycling by programming harder resistance and repeating multiple times. Finding outdoor routes that allow such interval workouts often is challenging.
• Take a spinning class. Runners benefit from the intense cardiovascular workout without the impact. Cyclists will enjoy the camaraderie of other riders and benefit from the ability to train more intensely with control over resistance, which generally is terrain dependent outdoors.
• Try yoga and meditation. Yoga poses will improve flexibility and strength, and meditation can help runners and cyclists improve their focus and reduce stress.
• Hit the indoor pool. Swimming strengthens upper body muscles, which often are neglected by runners and cyclists.
Improving swimming technique and endurance inside during the winter months will benefit triathletes during spring and summer competitions.
All Fitness __ COLD WEATHER SAFETY
— Jennifer Van Pelt, MA, is a certified group fitness instructor and health care research analyst/consultant in the Reading, Pennsylvania, area.