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Burning Calories: Get Ready for Winter Exercise

When cold weather arrives, we have to plan how to exercise outside, or even if we should be outside. There is something wonderful about running or walking in winter. It is brisk and silent early in the morning. Your thoughts about the day come and go as you burn calories and make yourself healthier. But, and here’s the big but, people with diabetes have special needs concerning the weather, so speak to your physician about when not to exert outside.

Many of us are not supposed to exercise when it’s too hot or too cold. Get the scoop about your health and any restrictions so that you know that you are getting the best from your efforts. Winter mornings are dark and if that’s your time to exercise as it is mine, make sure you know how to be seen. I know that I’ve been overwhelmed when running and a car comes around a bend right at me. Thank goodness for reflective materials. In this article we will talk about how to dress for cold weather exercise and also how to plan for indoor exercise when it’s just plain too cold or inclement to be outside.

First of all it’s very important to remain motivated to exercise even in the dead of winter. If you read these articles you know the benefits of exercise for everyone and more especially for those of us with diabetes. We all know that exercise along with medication and diet is the 3-prong effort in treating diabetes. When you exercise in the winter, you can help shake those wintertime blues, improve your mood, increase your energy level, and improve your sleep. We’ve spoken about how to start a program, so please reread those articles, but start with a medical workup, a talk with your physician, and make your plans.

We have lists of exercise and how many calories they burn in some of these articles, so on a snowy day, instead of sitting in front of the TV, you can walk the steps of your home or clean house. If you can get to a mall, you can walk the mall. Purchase weights and do strength training three times a week. You can purchase video tapes and learn something new. Try Tai Chi or Yoga or maybe a stretch video. As we age we have to work on flexibility so these can be of great help and the winter is a great time to expand your skills. Get a friend and make a call to make sure you are both exercising either together or on a snowy day at home.

One alternative for winter exercise is to move inside.

  1. Join a Mall walking club. We have an article in our Exercise index on the subject you can read, but suffice it to say that after you get to the mall you’ll be amazed at how quickly your time there will fly by. The pay off, of course, is that you are with other people and you may well make new friends or acquaintances.
  2. Join a health club for the winter. Again, we have articles on this subject in our Exercise articles for you to reread. Make the rounds before it is too cold. Interview members about the safety aspects of the club. Talk to teachers about how they can help you specifically and what they know about how to help someone with diabetes if they should get into trouble while exercising. Check the cleanliness of the changing rooms. Ask about classes and what levels they offer and, what ever you do, do not fall for high-pressure salespeople. Find out if your hospital has a gym, or go to a Y.
  3. Try water sports in the winter. Water is great for your joints, so if you have bad knees this may be your ticket. You’ll need to plan for extra time to shower and dry your hair before you leave the pool, but the years that I swam over my lunch hour are filled with good memories.
  4. If you afford the price and have the space, you can make yourself a gym at home. Consumers Reports has articles on this machinery. You can do this very reasonably with a ball, weights and other reasonable top buy tools. I take some of these on trips so I know they are packable. My elastic pulls just roll up.

If you go outside to exercise you’ll need to make provisions to protect yourself. When I was young we all looked like snowmen and women in cold weather. Today, know that a layered system of high-tech, lightweight fabrics is much more comfortable.

  • Layer one: Closest to your skin, wear a thin layer of synthetic microfibers such as polypropylene to wick sweat away from your body. Look for underwear products and turtlenecks that feature this wicking action. Avoid cotton because it absorbs sweat and holds it close to you.
  • Layer 2: This insulates you from the cold. Try synthetic fleece which is light weight and quick drying. It will provide good insulation. Make sure you read the label. I can tell you that traveling through Great Britain, I bought a jacket made of one of these materials and it saved my life in the cold wet weather. It dried very quickly, so after dodging a downpour in a shop I was ready to brave the winds and rain again. This was a waterproof fleece product and so many of these products can be used as an outside layer too.
  • Layer 3: This is your shell and therefore your first line of defense against the weather. You want something that is as windproof and waterproof as possible. If the day warms up, you can always take it off. There has been a steady advance in technology in this area so that today you don’t have to feel like you are in a steam bath when you put on your shell. Read the label and shop at a store with knowledgeable staff. Although you may not go out in extreme cold, it is good to know for winter gifts for teenaged family members that there are shells with goose down lining that provide excellent retention of body heat without weighing you down.
  • Hands and Feet: Your hands and feet are obviously the farthest from your heart and not very insulated, so they are vulnerable to the cold. Polypropylene or woolen socks wick moisture away from the skin, while cotton does not. Sometimes we wear layers of socks and our shoes or boots become tight thus perhaps cutting off circulation, a major problem for those of us with diabetes. Make sure that your shoes fit with all of those socks on. All-climate shoes are available for winter walking or jogging. Remember the three layers we just talked about. Make sure that your mittens or gloves have the same three layers. In general, mittens are warmers than gloves because they retain the warmth around your fingers.
  • Neck and Head: You lose a lot of heat through you head. We all know that, but every winter I see people out in freezing weather with no hat on. Again, choose something made of wool or fleece that wicks the perspiration away from you. Cover your ears. If you’re out skiing and it’s cold, you can purchase a facemask which will protect your face and keep the air you breath humid.

Let’s summarize.

  • Avoid over dressing to prevent overheating. Sweating causes wet clothing against the skin which produces a chill. Dress in layers and make sure they are made of material that wick moisture from the skin.
  • Cover all exposed areas.
  • Be visible. Don’t wear black in the dark unless you have reflecting tape on your shoes and clothes. Wear light colored clothing after dark or in the morning.
  • Purchase different shoes for walking or jogging on slippery paths.
  • Warm up before you exercise. We have many articles here in the Exercise articles, so please reread one.
  • Take a friend with you. It’s easier to get hurt on a slippery day, so it’s safer to have someone there. Make sure your friend knows how to help you if your blood glucose levels fall.
  • Make sure you know how to keep your motivation high. Have a plan B if the weather is bad.
  • Most important, check out your health before you begin a program. Your doctor is a wealth of information, so use him/her.

The weather is colder and it’s time to exercise. Go for it!