By: Jessie Boogaard, Manager of Business and Quality, Regional Cardiac Care Program, Southlake Regional Health Centre
Many of the patients enrolled in our Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program love to lace up their running shoes and head outside for a walk. But as the temperature drops and the snow begins to fall, patients often ask if it’s still safe to exercise outdoors.
This is actually a very important question, because cold weather can impact the way your body functions, especially when exercising.
To avoid a decrease in core body temperature, your body redirects the flow of blood to your midsection. With more blood in your core area, blood pressure can rapidly increase because your heart has more blood to pump against. This means your body is already working in high gear before you even start exercising.
For people with heart disease, the additional load on the heart can cause symptoms of angina, which is the medical term for chest pain. This discomfort is commonly described as a squeezing, suffocating or burning feeling.
It is critical that people be aware of these signs and symptoms, and if they experience them, immediately stop what they’re doing and seek medical attention.
We encourage all our patients to consult with their healthcare team on a safe exercise plan, including activities outdoors.
Here are some of the top tips we offer on exercising safely outdoors in cold weather:
Let the temperature be your guide. If it’s between -1°C to -9°C, we suggest decreasing outdoor activities. If the temperature is -10°C or lower, we call this the danger zone and don’t recommend any outdoor activities. Move your workout indoors!
Extend your warm up time. Your body, much like your car, needs more time to warm up on a cold day before you take it for a spin. You can do this by walking on the spot and good stretching.
Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for ice overhead and under foot. Snow-covered and icy surfaces increase the effort required for exercise and can also increase the risk of injury. Also keep an eye out for snow or ice falling from rooftops and buildings.
Stay hydrated. You might be surprised to know that we still sweat and can become dehydrated even when it’s cold outside.
Decrease intensity, pace and duration.
Dress for the elements. Always keep your head, hands and feet warm. Wet snow and rain can reduce the insulating properties of clothing and allow body heat to be lost. We suggest layering clothing, with water and wind resistant outerwear.
Don’t ditch your running shoes. We actually suggest that you wear your usual running shoes outdoors in the winter, as they will offer good traction and are light weight. Opt for warmer wool or synthetic socks. If you are looking for more traction, consider buying removable grips/traction attachments for your shoes.
Remember: cold weather doesn’t mean you have to abandon your outdoor exercise – just be sure you’re doing it safely!