Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

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Tips for staying active no matter the weather

1/25/2018 by Dr. John Matulis


Brrrr. You don't need me to tell you that winter has finally arrived in Minnesota. While many people talk about "going into hibernation" or "hunkering down" for these cold-weather months, there actually is a lot of opportunity to get out, stay active and continue working on your wellness goals. As they say in Norway, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!"

Let me share with you some ideas for staying active during the winter months. 

Q: What are some things to do outside in the cold weather? 

A: Winter is a great season for some really neat activities. Try a new winter sport such as ice skating, snowboarding or cross-country skiing (a great full body and low impact work-out!). We have wonderful places to go cross-country skiing in our area, particularly our state parks. For the non-skiers or skaters there's still plenty to do outside — just tap your inner child — make snow angels (214 calories burned per hour, on average), have a snowball fight (319 calories burned per hour) or even build a snowman (285 calories burned per hour). Our bike paths also are plowed, and winter can be a beautiful time to go out for a walk, especially after a fresh snow. Or check out winter bike riding with one of the new fat-tire bikes. 

Q: I just can't get myself outside. Is there anything else for me to do to stay active?

A: Yes! In your own home, pop in a workout DVD, crank up the tunes and dance like no one is watching (300+ calories burned per hour), or buy a new piece of fitness equipment (check out second-hand sporting goods stores). Even better, sign up for a new class or join an indoor sports league to get you up and moving! Participating in a regular activity that you've paid for (or have teammates counting on you to play in) is a great way to stay active in the winter time. You might even discover a new passion or make new friends. 

Q: How should I dress for the elements?

A: Here's what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests:

  • Hat
  • Scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
  • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist 
  • Mittens (they're warmer than gloves)
  • Water-resistant coat and shoes
  • Several layers of loose-fitting clothing

Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant to reduce loss of body heat caused by wind. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry — wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. 

Q: What are some signs of cold exposure?

A: The first sign of cold exposure in children and adults is shivering. In infants, their skin will turn bright red and cold, and they will have less energy than normal. Do not ignore shivering. It's an important first sign that the body is losing heat, and you should return indoors to warm up. Be sure to remove any damp clothing. And although it's tempting, steer away from alcoholic beverages to keep you "warm." They cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages such as hot chocolate to maintain your body temperature. 

Q: Anything else I should know about cold-weather safety?

A: It would be a great idea to review these recommendations from the CDC. There are a lot of tips on storm preparation, safe heating of your home, and what you should do in an emergency. 

Dr. John Matulis is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM). He has completed his master's degree in public health and has an interest in preventive medicine. He recently relocated from a cold place (New Hampshire) to an even colder one (Minnesota).