Tips on Staying Active in the Cold Winter Months
Winter is coming. Although going to the gym is an excellent option for the colder months, some gyms may still be closed, or you may not be comfortable heading back thanks to COVID-19. So, going for your usual run or hike outdoors may be challenging, especially during the cold and dark winter days.
While staying warm and cozy at home is easier, neglecting your exercise routine isn’t great for your health. The good news is that with a few tips and tweaks, you don’t have to postpone your exercise until spring. In this article, we share adaptive outdoor activity options to help you stay faithful to your fitness regimen in the winter.
Get the right gear
The first step to making winter outdoor workouts happen is ensuring you’ve dressed appropriately. If you’re doing active things like cross-country skiing, running, or hiking, consider wearing layers that are easy to add and remove. This allows you to easily offset increasing body temperatures with the colder air.
When layering, make sure that the clothing closest to your skin is made of moisture-wicking material, such as polypropylene or lightweight polyester. This takes moisture away from your skin to the outer layers to evaporate.
Clothing made from polyester fleece or wool is best for the second insulating layer. Meanwhile, the third outer layer should be wind and rain-repellent. However, if you’re exercising in the cold, you can remove the third layer unless it’s windy, snowing, or raining. If worn during exercise, this wind- and rain-proof later can trap sweat, stopping proper evaporation.
Look for winter hats and caps designed to wick away sweat while maintaining heat. And don’t forget to protect your hands and fingers by wearing gloves.
Your prosthetist may also give you more information on weather-appropriate adaptive clothing, so you can easily access your prosthetic limb should you need to adjust it in the middle of an activity.
Warm-ups and cool downs
When exercising in colder weather, warm-ups and cool downs are essential. During winter, it’s best to do more dynamic warm-up exercises, which use movement to warm your muscles, compared to the more traditional static stretching, which involves simply holding positions.
The dynamic stretching approach gives the body an active range of motion—similar to the exercise you’re about to perform—to warm muscles.
While static stretching is still a good practice, it’s best to do it during your cool downs. Hold those stretches for at least 30 seconds to about two minutes to get the most benefit. But if you feel pain, stop immediately. You want to keep your muscles flexible and pliable after working out.
Walking and adaptive running
During the cold months, walking and running are the easiest outdoor exercises as they don’t require much in terms of extra gear. Warming up is, of course, essential, but if you’re planning to go out for a cold winter walk, you can skip the warm-up.
Be sure to get the right shoes for running. And don’t forget to ask your prosthetist to check if your everyday prosthetic leg or knee can withstand the stress of a jog or run.
If you’re new to adaptive running, watch out for overuse injuries which typically affect the knees and the hips. Always start slow; pick a program that fits your level of training, then slowly work your way up.
If the weather is fine and you have the right gear, hiking is an activity that you can do year-round. Like adaptive running, hiking also presents the same risk of overuse injuries. So, start slow; avoid hiking more than you can handle at your current level. Start with shorter routes on easy and flatter trails, then work your way up.
Also, make sure to have a solid hiking route in place. This does not simply keep you from getting lost; it also ensures that you spend as little time exposed to the elements as possible.
As with adaptive running, check with your doctor and prosthetist first to ensure that your prosthetic limb and body are both ready for the activity. Also, remember that not all prosthetic legs are made for uneven and unpaved ground. So your prosthetist might need to make adjustments before going on your first hike.
As for your footwear, we advise getting a pair that’s not only comfortable to wear but are also waterproof.
Like many of these activities, adaptive cycling is doable in the winter. However, doing it regularly depends on where you live as well as the weather.
As with running, it’s crucial to include dynamic stretching into your warm-up routine. This gets your body warm, especially in cold weather. And like everything else, be sure to start slow.
To prevent pain, don’t forget to adjust the bike’s saddle height. The appropriate seat height depends on how deep your hips or knees go into flexion. If you feel a lot of pain in the front of your knees, the seat is probably too low. But if you experience a lot of pain in the back of your knees, the saddle may be too high.
Other outdoor activities
The types of activities you enjoy will vary depending on where you live. Besides the exercises discussed above, here are other outdoor winter activities you may want to do.
If you’re heading to a ski resort, inquire if they offer adaptive programs. Ask them about the types of equipment available for rent and if they have instructors familiar with adaptive winter sports. If you need some assistance, let them know in advance.
Second, set up an appointment with your prosthetist, doctor, and physical therapist before heading to the ski resort. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions regarding medications or restrictions. Have your prosthetist check your prosthetic limb to ensure it’s in good shape and capable of bearing the stresses of adaptive winter sports. Not all prosthetic feet or knees can withstand skiing. So ask your prosthetist about this.
Adaptive ice skating
If it’s your first time to ice skate with a prosthetic limb, you may want to check out programs like Learn to Skate USA, which welcomes skaters of all ages and abilities. Their Skate United curriculum provides individuals with physical disabilities with the chance to learn new skills. Skaters on this track can perform in exhibitions, compete in competitions, or simply enjoy a new hobby on ice.
Before ice skating, don’t forget to stretch your core and hips. Footwear is also essential, so don’t forget to ask your prosthetist about what to wear on your next appointment.
Whatever you decide to do to stay active this winter, remember that mixing up different exercises or activities is best for your overall health. For example, you can do adaptive running one day and adaptive cycling the next. This prevents overuse injuries and does not exacerbate underlying health issues like arthritis.
What outdoor activities do you plan to do this winter?