Tempted to take your workout into the great outdoors?
Be aware that there are both benefits and risks to exercising outdoors during the winter.
“There’s actually some advantages to working out in cold weather – with no heat and humidity to deal with you may be able to work out longer in cold weather which means you can burn even more calories,” said Dallas cardiologist Dr. John Osborne. “It’s also a great way to get much needed vitamin D from the sunlight, which can help elevate your mood.”
Plus, research shows that exercise boosts your immunity during the cold and flu season, which Osborne said could be important in dealing with possible COVID infection.
But he cautioned that outdoor winter sports and chores such as shoveling can pose heart risks. That’s because cold temperatures cause blood vessels to contract and coronary arteries to constrict. This can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
“Strenuous activities such as walking through heavy snow or snow shoveling can add stressors to the heart that people aren’t normally used to,” Osborne said in an American Heart Association news release. “Our hearts also have to work extra hard in cold weather to keep a healthy body temperature.”
He offered a number of safety tips for outdoor activities:
- Wear layers to keep warm and prevent cold weather hazards like hypothermia and frostbite.
- Don’t overexert yourself. If you have any doubts, talk to your doctor.
- Take breaks and stay hydrated. Even though it’s cold and you may not feel thirsty, it’s important to drink water like you would during a warm weather workout. Thirst isn’t the best indicator that you need to drink; even if you aren’t sweating as much, you still need to hydrate.
- Avoid added calories in cold weather drinks. Comforting drinks like pumpkin spiced lattes and hot chocolate can be loaded with unwanted sugar and fat.
- Get vaccinated. COVID-19 and the flu are especially dangerous for people with heart disease.
- Learn CPR. Emergency response times can be slower in bad winter weather. If administered immediately after cardiac arrest, CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival, Osborne said.
There’s more on winter health and safety at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.