January 31, 2024

Being physically active helps us feel good, sleep better, lifts our mood, reduces anxiety and lowers blood pressure. Long-term, physical activity can boost brain, heart and bone health. When we head outdoors to work out, studies show that physical activity outdoors lowers the body’s blood pressure and heart rate.  

Thomas Finn DO

Sports Medicine

Walking, running, hiking and biking are good options for outdoor sports and activities. When we do aerobic activities in cool weather, we burn extra calories to stay warm.

Best of all, exercise and sunlight team up to boost our mood. When we exercise outside, the body releases more “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. Serotonin helps us feel happy and calm. Endorphins target pain and stress relief. Dopamine gives us a sense of pleasure.

To exercise safely and prevent injury, follow these tips.

Warm-up: A warm-up, such as a slower or lower intensity version of the planned exercise, helps get your body ready for more intense exercise by activating and loosening up your muscles and priming your central nervous system. It should take 5-10 minutes.  Additionally, a 5–10 minute postexercise cool-down can help with recovery and prevent a feeling of lightheadedness some people get when they stop exercise too quickly.

Not everyone needs a dedicated period of stretching, but it can be important in helping regain or maintain full functional motion.  If you do stretch, it’s usually best to do this after the muscles are already warmed up or at the end of the workout.

Drink water before, during and after workouts. When it’s cool outside, our thirst and urge to drink water decreases. So be sure to drink water throughout your day.

Dress in layers: The base layer closest to your skin should be a thin, moisture-wicking material like polyester or polypropylene. Cotton will make you feel damp and cold. Over your base layer, add an insulating layer such as polyester fleece or wool. The third layer should be a jacket or shell to block the wind or snow. 

Head, Hands, Feet: Ears, nose, fingers and toes are vulnerable to frostbite. Wear a hat, gloves or mittens, and warm socks. In colder weather, you may also need a face mask, gator or goggles. To keep feet warm and dry, wear proper footwear or boots that have good traction to prevent slips and fall.

Be weather aware: During winter storm, blizzard and cold weather warnings and advisories, take your workouts indoors. Use common sense when temperatures and wind chills are low.

Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia (low body temperature). If you feel tingling or numbness or notice redness or pain in your fingers, toes, ears or nose, get inside and warm up. These are early warning signs of frostbite. Signs and symptoms of hypothermia are shivering, fatigue, confusion, slurred speech and memory loss. Seek medical help right away.

Talk with your primary care provider before beginning a new exercise routine or sport.