Your guide to staying active outdoors this winter

TRNTO X Cleveland Clinic Canada

It’s easy to head outdoors for exercise when it’s nice and warm. But the cold and grey days of winter tend to push most of us indoors for the season. Luckily, with a little preparation, precautions and planning, it’s possible to keep fit with outdoor workouts until spring. 

We consulted with Dr. Ira Smith, a Sports Medicine Physician at Cleveland Clinic Canada Midtown, and Jenna McEachern, a Physiotherapist at Cleveland Clinic Canada Midtown, about how to stay safe while training in the ice and snow. 

Get the right gear

The most important thing when heading outside in colder temps is to make sure you’re dressed appropriately. 

Dr. Smith recommends layering. “Merino wool is a nice base layer,” he says. “Try to avoid cotton, so perspiration doesn’t get absorbed and keep your body wet.” The second layer should be an insulating layer, which can be wool or polyester fleece. If it’s raining, snowing, or very windy, you can add a third layer that’s wind and rain repellent. “Just make sure to avoid down when doing vigorous exercise,” says Dr. Smith. 

There are also specially made winter hats to help wick away sweat while retaining heat. Likewise, be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands and fingers. 

Stretch it out

Warm-ups are essential for cold weather activities. “At the beginning of the winter season, we are often participating in activities that we have not done in some time,” says Ms. McEachern. “So it’s important to do dynamic stretching, since we will be stressing our muscles and joints in a way that we are not fully reacquainted with.” 

Dynamic stretching gives the body an active range of motion to warm muscles up in a similar way to the exercise you’re about to perform. “It involves taking your joints through a large range of motion and getting some heat in the body,” says Ms. McEachern. “And it helps to prevent injuries.”

Hiking 

As long as the weather’s okay and you have the right gear, hiking can be a great year-round activity. Just don’t hike more than you can handle. Start with shorter routes and work your way up. Be sure whatever shoes you’re wearing on your hike are waterproof.  Besides being at risk for blisters, there’s a good chance of your feet becoming cold and changes in sensation which increases the risk of taking a bad step or another injury when hiking on an uneven surface. 

Cross-country skiing

According to Dr. Smith, skiing injuries fall into two main categories: overuse and traumatic. “Overuse injuries can occur mostly to the upper extremities (shoulders, elbows, wrists) and are often due to poor technique.” He stresses that it’s important to take the time to learn proper technique, as many people feel they can begin cross-country skiing without training. Correct form will help prevent any unnecessary injury or strain. The risk of overuse injuries can also be reduced by a proper warm-up prior to strapping on your skis. “This could include a brisk walk or hike, some pushups or other arm exercises,” says Dr. Smith. 

It’s important to start small and build up your endurance and duration. “Traumatic injuries can occur to ankles, knees and shoulders from falls at varying speeds,” says Dr. Smith. To prevent traumatic injuries, he recommends controlling your speed, and learning how to fall properly and safely.  

Ice skating

Ice skating is a fun winter activity that can be done at a wide range of levels, from laid back fun skates around the rink to more active styles like speed skating or even as part of playing hockey. Ms. McEachern is a fan of skating’s many health benefits. “It challenges our balance, strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness,” she says. 

If you are new to the sport, Ms. McEachern cautions that there is a higher risk of falling, so you should be sure to wear padding and a helmet to reduce the risk of fracture and concussion. “Off-ice preparation should involve strength training sessions (2-3 times per week) that involve strength, core, balance and flexibility training,” she says. 

Even experienced skaters should take these precautions, advises Ms. McEachern, since skating at higher levels, such as figure skating or hockey, can result injury as well. “Common injuries we see at Cleveland Clinic Canada Midtown are groin strains, back strains, high ankle sprains and others due to contact or accidents.” Regardless of your level of experience, “warming up before and stretching afterwards are key to making the most of each outing.”

Mix it up

Whatever you decide to do, it’s most beneficial to mix up different exercises. If you’re not an avid devotee to any one particular form of exercise, mixing in hiking with skating or cross-country skiing is generally better for the body. It helps prevent overuse injuries or exacerbating any underlying issues.

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