Winter’s freezing temperatures can be cumbersome no matter what you do, be it walking the dog, training for the Mercedes Marathon, or doing everyday activities. But preparing for outdoor activities properly is the best defense against harsh, winter weather, especially for those braving the cold to stay healthy.
Dress for Success
Head Coach of UAB Track and Field Kurt Thomas says that for a successful workout in the cold, comfortable layers, which you can shed as you begin to warm up, are key. Thomas says to start with your first layer as tights or something fitting but comfortable that will hold heat in, then progress with light jackets and if necessary a heavy coat or jacket.
Warm It Up
Making sure your muscles are warmed up is another good practice for those planning to run or work out outside. Thomas says that injuries like tweaked hamstrings can result if you don’t warm up properly. A solid warm up also affects your body’s ability to control blood flow.
“Your blood vessels and veins actually constrict a little bit, so warming up really well will allow those things to open up so you can have a prolonged exercise and really get the blood flowing properly without getting too cold,” says Thomas.
Thomas recommends a longer warm up for especially chilly days to help with blood flow and protect against injury. If your usual warm up is 15 minutes, make it 30 minutes in colder weather to make sure your muscles are warm enough for exercise. He also says that staying hydrated is crucial. Many people do not realize how much water their bodies have lost due to sweat, and can end up dehydrating. He also suggests working out during the warmest part of the day to minimize exposure to cold air.
Watch Your Step
Finally, pay attention to your footing. Colder temperatures increase the chance of ice, and one wrong step could be the difference between finishing the colder months in stride, or in a cast. Thomas suggests slowing down your pace to ensure your footing and keep you from slipping.
Inhale and Exhale
Winter’s cold air can do more than just send a shiver down your spine; it can even be life threatening to some. For asthma patients, the cold air can be a trigger for symptoms such as cough, wheeze, and chest tightness. According to UAB asthma specialist Dr. John Anderson, these symptoms are the sign of airways contracting and narrowing.“Airways of the lung prefer a warmer, humidified air,” says Anderson. For this reason, the nasal passages are designed to warm and humidify air before it reaches the lung.
Strengthen Your Defense
Most asthma flare ups occur in the fall and winter when students return from break. Other triggers for asthma include allergies to certain cedar trees that pollinate in early January, as well as the dramatic drop in temperature.
Asthma sufferers who prefer to exercise outdoors need to take proper precautions and practice healthy breathing methods. Most people tend to mouth-breathe during exercise, which allows more cold air to reach the lungs and trigger asthmatic symptoms.
“Practical measures to prevent this include exercising indoors and nasal breathing,” says Anderson. “In addition, pre-treating with albuterol [a medication that relaxes and smoothes muscle] can prevent the airways from constricting,” says Anderson.
Anderson also recommends that asthma patients get an annual flu vaccine and a pneumonia vaccination if they haven’t had a recent one to protect against viral infections, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus [which causes respiratory tract infections]. These are more common in winter months and cause asthma flares.
Have a Plan
Anderson also suggests that asthma patients be tested for allergies, since allergies can be a trigger for flares, too. If indoor allergies are detected, certain precautionary measures can be taken to protect against an attack. Use dust mite covers on pillows and mattresses, and wash pets weekly to get rid of pet dander. Finally, check all faucets and drains for leaks, and use the ventilation fan during showers to avoid the buildup of moisture, which causes mold.
“The best prevention is having good control of asthma and having a plan should symptoms worsen,” says Anderson.
Anderson says that asthma sufferers should be familiar with their triggers and develop a plan with their doctor in case their symptoms worsen. He says this can help a patient determine if they need to see a doctor.