Exercise is the key to staying healthy and happy this season.
by Rebecca Behrens
American Cheerleader February 2010
During winter, it’s fun to hole up indoors with copies of American Cheerleader and steaming cups of hot cocoa. But just because it’s freezing outside doesn’t mean you should hibernate. In fact, doing so could actually be bad for your health. Catching the “winter blues” can result in depression, because of the lack of sun and warmth, injuries due to exercising in wintry conditions, unwanted weight-gain over the holidays or even cabin fever. Below you’ll find tips and tricks for staying active, smart and safe during the cold months.
Move It or Lose It
Even if you won’t be wearing your uniform for a few weeks, staying active over break means you won’t have to play catch-up in the new year. The average American gains one to two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years according to a study by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Although gaining a pound isn’t something to stress over, it’s a problem if you start a pattern of gaining weight every winter and then not shedding it during the warmer months. Don’t be afraid to indulge in wintertime goodies (holiday cookies, stuffing and pie—oh my!), but make an effort to keep working out so you can stay healthier in the long term.
A SAD Affair
Exercise can also help you combat the winter blahs. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that some people get when the weather turns dark and cold. For SAD sufferers, the cold temperatures and lack of sun can take their toll, causing feelings of sadness. But SAD is treatable with light therapy (getting daily sunlight exposure) and exercise. Medical studies have even shown that exercise can be as effective a treatment for depression as prescription medicine. So, if you’re prone to feeling down during the winter, get outside for a workout and some sunshine.
If you have access to a gym or indoor facility during cold months, you can keep doing your regular workouts. However, winter is a great opportunity to fall in love with an awesome new sport. Some of the most popular winter sports are downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ice skating (figure or speed), hockey, snowshoeing and sledding (yes, you can consider sledding exercise!). Not only does picking up a winter sport give you a chance to show off a new skill, but it gets you outside for your exercise (a double dose of SAD-fighting power!).
Breaking the Ice
While trying new things is a blast, nothing will bum you out like an injury. Winter sports do have a reputation for wipeouts. Lower your risk of getting hurt by following these tips:
• Dress properly. According to Dr. Halim Hennes, a University of Texas Southwestern pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, you should “dress in layers of light, moisture-resistant, breathable cloth. Layers can be added or removed to keep you warm and comfortable depending on the conditions.”
• Warm-up and stretch before you start! As with regular exercise, it’s important to always warm up first. Dr. Hennes adds that it takes a little longer to warm up muscles and ligaments in colder temperatures than in warmer ones.
• Always exercise with others. You never know when you’ll need a helping hand or someone to watch your back. Use the buddy system, and never skate or sled solo.
• Use your head. If you haven’t snowboarded before, it’s a smart move to take a lesson first. Also check the environment’s safety before you jump into any activity—make sure there aren’t trees on your sledding hill or patches of thin ice on the skating rink.
• Don’t push yourself too hard. That means, don’t ski down a black diamond course on your first run. Keep track of your health by monitoring your temperature, and take warming-up breaks before you get too cold.
• Always wear protective gear. “Make sure you have an appropriate helmet, especially for sledding, snowmobiling, skiing or snowboarding,” says Dr. Hennes. “Boots and gloves are good for preventing frostbite and should allow for comfortable mobility.” He adds that you can get a sunburn even in the winter, so don’t forget to use sunscreen, especially on exposed skin like the face.
• Call for help. If you think you’ve been injured, get help. Don’t assume that the pain you feel after a spill will go away. Be safe and get a doctor to check it out. It’s better to take a break from winter fun than to be out all next season because you have to heal.
• Don’t forget to hydrate. Did you know that dehydration is a problem in cold weather, too? Your body loses tons of water when you breathe in cold, dry winter air, so drink lots of warm fluids (like soup, cocoa and tea), because they’ll keep you hydrated and warm.
The winter blues don’t mean you need to hide under a comforter until spring break. Take advantage of seasonal sports and take care of yourself. It’ll be spring in no time, although you might find you’ve grown to love the season of snowboards and snowflakes.
What’s your favorite winter pastime? Comment below!