Take Caution When Exercising or Shoveling Snow in Winter

WARE — Despite the cold weather, exercising and breathing fresh air can be good for you. “In fact, the American Council on Exercise says it’s fine to exercise in the cold as long as you follow health and safety tips before you begin,” said Dr. Richard Gerstein, chair of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital.
When planning outdoor exercise of any kind, first map out your route, noting areas to avoid that might be prone to large amounts of snow, ice, and other traffic dangers. Always tell someone what route you’re taking, and when to expect your return. Remember that it gets dark earlier during the winter months, so be sure to wear light and reflective clothing, to ensure that drivers can see you. Use the sidewalk if it’s clear of ice and slippery snow. Find a well-lit route, slow your pace, and make sure you’re familiar with areas of broken concrete.
Be sure to wear sturdy footwear with good traction to prevent slips and falls on snow or ice. Be cautious for black ice, which forms early in the morning and at dusk, and is almost impossible to see. Wear a helmet while skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.
Dress in layers. The first layer that’s directly touching your skin should be a lightweight synthetic or polyester material. It will dry quickly and wick away moisture. Don’t wear cotton next to the skin, because when you sweat, cotton captures moisture and traps it next to your body, and your body loses heat four times faster when exposed to water. The second layer should be wool or polyester fleece. Wear an outer layer that repels wind and precipitation as necessary.
A hat is important because a great amount of heat is lost through the head and neck; in fact, up to 50{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of body heat is lost from an uncovered head when the temperatures hit the freezing mark.  Having a loose layer like a turtleneck or scarf to pull over your nose and mouth can also warm frigid air before you inhale, helping to protect your lungs.
Fingers and hands are very vulnerable to the cold, so keep them covered. Gloves can help prevent skin damage and frostbite. Remember that your fingers, toes, ears, and nose are at greatest risk because these areas do not have major muscles to produce heat. In addition, the body will preserve heat by favoring your internal organs, reducing the flow of blood to the extremities under cold conditions.
Wear sunscreen. You can just as easily get sunburned in the winter as in the summer, especially if you are exercising in the snow. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and reapply as necessary. Also, remember to use lip balm to protect your lips from winter cold and exposure to the sun, wind, cold, and dry air.
Drink plenty of fluids. Staying properly hydrated is just as important during cold weather as during hot weather. Drink before, during, and after your workout, even if you don’t feel very thirsty, as dehydration may be more difficult to notice during cold-weather exertion.
Exercising in cold weather may not be ideal for everyone. Certain medical conditions demand extra caution, so check with your doctor prior to engaging in cold-weather exercise if you have a heart condition, asthma, exercise-induced bronchitis, or Raynaud’s disease.
For most people, however, continuing an exercise routine during the winter does not mean you have to stay inside. With the right clothing and proper planning, you can get the most out of your workout, including outside during cold weather.
One form of exercise many New Englanders take on this time of year — rarely by choice — is shoveling snow, which brings its own set of cautions. “The winter season brings the cold weather, snow, and a list of injuries that are common with the season,” said Dr. Morris Leibowitz, an emergency physician at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital.
According to a study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, U.S. hospitals treat about 11,500 injuries and medical emergencies a year related to shoveling snow.  The activity places demands on the cardiovascular system and can raise heart rates above recommended upper limits for unfit people. Two-thirds of shoveling injuries occur in men, and 15{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of injuries are in children under 18 years old.
“Snow shoveling is no different than any other physical activity. If you have any health concerns, you should ask your doctor first,” said Leibowitz who offers these snow-shoveling safety tips:
• Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning. These are stimulants which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict, which places extra stress on the heart. Cigarette smokers can get short of breath quite easily, which can increase your chances of heart and lung problems.
• Pick the right shovel for you. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body. Begin shoveling slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
• Use the proper length snow shovel.  If the handle is too short, your back may be unnecessarily stressed. Check how the shovel feels in your hands before you purchase it.
• Protect your back from injury by lifting correctly. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance, and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back), and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements.
Back injuries can also result from snowblower use. Snowblowers are designed to remove snow at a particular rate of speed. Don’t push or force the equipment to go faster; rather, let it do the work for you.  Also, Leibowitz noted, “each year we see numerous hand injuries from snowblower use. If the snowblower clogs with ice, the blade may stop turning, but the engine may not shut off. Never reach inside to check or service the blades unless the motor is shut off.
 “Most importantly,” he added, “listen to your body, and stop if you feel pain of any kind. If you experience an injury or symptoms such as chest pain; shoulder, neck, or arm pain; shortness of breath; dizziness, fainting; sweating; or nausea, even if it temporarily subsides, come immediately to the emergency room to be evaluated.”