Winter Wellness, Health and Fitness

    Winter RunnersPhilip A. Anloague PT, DHSc, OCS, MTC
    Chair, University of Dayton Department of Physical Therapy 

    The winter months provide a great opportunity to think fit. You can work off those holiday cookies, stay true to new year resolutions or continue your fitness program with seasonal activities and new goals. Here are some health and wellness tips that you may find helpful during the winter months:

    The Heart of Winter. Cardiovascular activity is important for good heart health, and it doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment to get in a good work out. While a walk or run can be done indoors on a treadmill or at the local mall, I like to go outside and enjoy running during a light snowfall. If you are exercising outdoors, make sure that you stretch and warm up properly. It’s best to warm up indoors. This will also help you determine how may layers of clothing you may need to keep warm without overheating. Cover up your legs, hands and face in cold temperatures, and make sure that you have the proper footwear for the conditions and surfaces that you will be exercising on. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that shorter winter days mean less light. Make sure that you are reflective, well lit and visible at all times. Proper preparation helps to prevent injuries.

    Ring in the New Year. There are many opportunities to try something new during this time of year. Many of us are setting resolutions, so this can be a great time to get on board with others who are starting new programs just like you. I am a big fan of fitness classes, such as spinning, Zumba, salsa dancing, kick boxing or taekwondo, to get the heart pumping. There are also restorative activities like yoga, Pilates, tai chi, and qi gong that can build strength, increase flexibility and help you relax. These classes can help refresh your energy and improve your stamina throughout the winter. Do your homework and find an activity that is a good fit for your fitness.

    Let it Snow! Take advantage of the season and enjoy the snow if you can. This is a great time of year to participate in winter fun that ranges from rigorous activities—skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing— or simply taking a nice nature walk through the snowy woods. These activities can offer a combination of cardiovascular exercise with functional strengthening and balance training.

    Help yourself by serving others. Two recent national studies show that volunteering predicts the health of those who value others. Volunteering not only provides an opportunity to participate in rewarding service for the community, but it has been shown that helping behaviors can buffer the effects of stress on health. Service activities can also enable you to be physically active while you work in a local soup kitchen, participate in a toy drive for a children’s hospital or canvass your neighborhood for donations to a food bank. Volunteering enables you to do good for others while staying active.

    Eat well! The holiday season offers lots of opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the company of family and friends. Unfortunately, we can be led astray from our normal eating habits. Follow the same healthy eating guidelines that you normally would or set goals to build meals with lean protein, whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Set aside some calories for those once-in-awhile treats, fruitcake notwithstanding. Moderation is best.

    Other Tips:

    • Listen to Your Body: Minimize risk and avoid winter sports injuries by knowing your limits. Listen to your body when you’re tired. Sometimes we push ourselves too far because we are having so much fun. If you are ever feeling particularly tired, sore or pained, it’s better to stop early than to risk injury.
    • Hydrate: It’s easy to forget about hydration when it’s cold outside. But, proper hydration is essential if you want to avoid fatigue and keep your muscles working properly. Remember to drink before, during and after all winter sport activities.
    • Gear Up:Check your equipment well before your planned activity and make sure your gear is in good condition. Being well equipped helps to avoid serious but preventable injuries.
    • Be Prepared:Winter brings a variety of factors that we may not think about during other times of the year. Being aware of cold temperatures, road conditions and the weather forecast can help to maintain good health and avoid injury.