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Do not leave your health in the cold – The importance of staying active in the winter

West End Health Line

By Sibel Dikmen, MD

Most of us understand that exercising is beneficial for our bodies and have heard the recommendation to exercise from our doctor. Minnesotans are above the national average when it comes to regular exercise according to the Minnesota Department of Health. When temperatures drop, however, and we begin to layer up, many of us often decrease our physical activity. Staying active year-round is critical to staying healthy, so finding safe active cold weather activities is important. 

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking and biking, five days per week. Believe it or not there are more than just cardiovascular benefits to regular physical activity. Regular movement has been shown to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, promote improved attention span and processing speed and improve mood and sleep. Being active helps both the body and mind! 

What can you do to stay active when it is too cold to be outside? Body weight exercises can be done in your home without requiring any equipment; many people are familiar with squats, pushups and jumping jacks. If you are someone who prefers some guidance on what exactly to do, searching “body weight workouts” on the internet is a fantastic way to find free resources. When looking to incorporate equipment into home workouts, consider smaller items with great versatility. One example is a set of tube resistance bands. This is an item that can be used for full body exercises and is also incorporated into many free fitness programs online. 

Prefer to walk? Public transportation is available to the Mall of America where making laps will always be warm and dry. Additionally, the city of Saint Paul has multiple community centers that offer affordable fitness center memberships as well as group fitness and sports classes for all ages. Not only is this a great resource for staying active, but it also has the added benefit of connecting you with other residents in your community. 

If you are determined to continue your regular outdoor activities through the winter, staying safe and warm is essential. Wearing reflective clothing is important to keep you visible with the shorter daylight hours. You will also need to take extra care to protect yourself from the elements. Dressing appropriately is crucial to prevent hypothermia which can be dangerous. Always include multiple layers of clothing with the goal of keeping yourself warm and dry. Your first layer should be a moisture wicking material, followed by an insulated layer meant to keep you warm, topped off by a waterproof layer on the outside. 

Now that the first snow has fallen, now is the time to make a plan on how to continue moving this winter. If you already have a routine in place, modify it as needed so you can continue to be active. If you do not have regular movement in your life, set a goal of establishing your own routine. Rather than taking on an all or nothing approach, try to gradually increase your activity over time. Share your goals with others and celebrate every win along the way! Make this winter a time where you can maintain or improve your fitness. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about how you can safely be active when it is cold outside. 

Dr. Dikmen is a family physician at Allina Health United Family Physicians, 233 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102, phone 651-241-5200

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