How to Stay Safe and Active during the Big Chill

By Martha Michael

Avoiding Injury from Exercise in Winter

Catching your death of cold is very real, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data shows that more individuals in the U.S. die from exposure to cold than in heat-related deaths. But, while most Americans won’t be facing those kinds of conditions, they do have to function during winter months when there’s a drop in temperatures. The recent cold weather that hit much of the U.S. is a perfect example of the need to work hand-in-hand to get along with Mother Nature.

The Deep Freeze

Exercise physiologist Polly de Mille of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, in a Huffington Post article about cold weather injuries, compares your internal tissues to a mound of clay. Your muscles and connective tissue are more pliable and have more elasticity when you’re warm, which makes it easy for them to elongate when you’re in motion. But when the temperature drops, their elasticity is restricted, so the chance of tearing or straining muscle tissue rises.

Winter temperatures also affect your circulation, the article says. Because your blood vessels narrow when you’re cold, the heart works harder, and blood flows to your organs instead of your extremities. But when your body begins to move, blood vessels start fueling the muscles you’re using, raising your blood pressure and, in some cases, causing a heart attack.

Also, your nervous system slows down, which can be a catalyst for injury. If your body can’t quickly warn you that your activity is injurious, you forcefully keep repeating it, such as skiing when your feet are numb, unaware that it’s doing harm to some parts of your body.

When Your Job Depends on It

If recreational activities aren’t making you face the cold, it may be your career. And you don’t have to be an Alaskan fisherman or a butcher working in cold storage to sustain injuries from low temperatures.

The Accuweather website has an article about tough winter jobs; they are so challenging because you have to consider the risk of hypothermia, dehydration and occasional slipping.

Some of the most common lines of work that involve toughing out the winters are:

  • Power line technicians
  • Meter readers
  • Airport agents
  • Mail delivery personnel
  • Drivers

Linemen typically use hand warmers, wear multiple layers and apply snow chains to their boots, says Todd Meyers of West Penn Power. And because slippery surfaces are causes of concern for delivery personnel, UPS drivers go through a training program where they let penguins be their guide.

“The drivers watch how the penguin walks so they are able to mimic it correctly,” the article says. “Walking can be challenging or even treacherous in winter conditions, especially while holding packages.”

New drivers train with a “Slip and Fall” machine, which instructs incoming drivers how to fall correctly, according to Dan McMackin of the UPS public relations office. “It is described as an air hockey surface with special shoes and a harness that catches trainees,” the article says.

Preventing a Cold Snap

Whether it’s your line of work or a favorite sport, if your lifestyle takes you into snowy environs, you’ve got decisions to make before you get out there, says an article in the Reno Gazette Journal.

Preventative warmups are a necessity when your muscles are cold, says Janelle Dorangricchia, MBA, a fitness and personal training supervisor at Saint Mary’s Fitness Center in Reno. You have to be sure you’ve got equipment to fight the cold, such as gloves and proper head coverings so you don’t get frostbite. And Dorangricchia recommends clothing and equipment that’s brightly colored to protect exercisers from roadside accidents.

“Additionally, it is best to exercise with someone, and even better if they happen to have some experience with the winter weather,” she says.

Begin conditioning before the onset of winter. See a chiropractor to get a list of conditioning exercises, plus gain the benefits of regular chiropractic adjustments, which includes better balance, greater range of motion and stronger joints. If you have recurring neck and shoulder pain, the vasoconstriction that comes with cold temperatures can increase your symptoms.

Discuss your winter plans with your chiropractic professional. He or she can help you prepare for the season, plus give you advice to minimize the chance of injury when you exercise.

The British Chiropractic Association offers the following tips for cold weather athletes. Drink lots of liquids, including water and isotonic drinks, to stay hydrated.

Make sure you have boots that fit correctly. Not only will it affect your skill level, the wrong size boots can be the cause of painful bunions and blisters; you’ll add to fit, comfort and ski control with a (molded) foot bed.

When not on your skis or boards, set them upright, which keeps you from leaning over for heavy lifting. Carry your gear on your shoulders and trade sides off and on when walking.

If you’ve taken a fall, you want to get yourself checked out by your chiropractor. Treat injuries as quickly as possible so you don’t end up with a chronic problem. You don’t want the literal effects of an “ice breaker” in the dead of winter.

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