We all know that exercising in good weather may be a chore, but we have few excuses not to get outside and walk, run, play tennis, basketball, softball, skateboard, or roller skate, not to mention all those water sports that we love in the heat of the summer.
Winter brings hibernation in some animals, but we humans we must continue to exercise. Why? Well the American College of Cardiology in a news brief on August 1, 2001 stated that in a series of trials called Studies of Left Ventricular Dysfunction (SOLVD), diabetes increased the risk of death for patients with heart failure no matter the cause of the heart failure. More on this subject can be found in our Abstracts article.
First the bad news. It is not uncommon for people to gain up to 10 pounds during the holiday months and after. This does not have to be the story of your life if you remain motivated and continue to exercise during the winter months.
Physical activity does the best for us if we do it year round. It should be fairly vigorous, so when it becomes cold, add walking up flights of steps if you are cutting down on other exercises. Schedule 30 to 60 minutes, 5 days a week for your workouts. Write down what you do and how your are doing. Weigh in once a week. List your repetitions. Add who you exercise with, and you have an exercise log.
There is little difference when one thinks about making up an all-weather exercise program. In warm weather we have outdoor and inside programs; after all it does rain in the summer. In the winter we have to do the same. We need fair weather outdoor exercise programs and indoor exercise for those days when even if you have the clothing, going outside is dangerous for those of us with heart disease and diabetes. Check with your physician about the temperatures that you need to avoid.
First, we’ll go over indoor activities for “those “days when it’s too cold or snowy. First, start by stretching. We have had articles in which we tell you the proper stretches to start and end exercise, so go back to the lists of previous article titles and reread those.
Then you can make your own workout circuit with 7-8 strength exercises to tone your body. To do this you need not equip a gym at home. Some weights or dumbbells, ankle weights, a step and aerobic video, and a resistance band can be the core of your work out.
If you have a partner, learn how to use a weighted ball together, and get a book with resistance exercises for two. They really are fun. There are numerous books that make exercising fun. In the winter we use one and faithfully do the exercises to keep toned. Don’t stop there. Join the Y or a gym and start on a treadmill, stationary bike, Nordic track or Elliptic machine. Gyms are full of machines, so ask for help before you tackle them.
Winter is a good time to try a new exercise. If you haven’t taken Yoga or Tai Bo, try them. How about Kick Boxing or just plain boxing? Buy a jump rope and begin to skip or jump rope. Just go down the list of our exercise articles and try something new. Don’t have the money for the lessons? Go to the Mall before it opens and join a Mall walking group. Maybe by the end of the first month you’ll be adding stair climbing for an extra work out. It’s a great way to make new friends and will keep you in shape. Do remember, that every step you take brings you closer to the level of health you deserve.
If you are like my friends and me, you’ll be outside exercising most of the time. Things we need to remember include the fact that 50% of heat loss in cold weather is from your head, so wear a hat. Dress in 3 layers so you can peel off clothing as you warm up.
Start with thermal underwear made of a fabric like polypropylene that wicks sweat from your skin. Don’t use cotton because it absorbs and holds moisture. Add a wool, down, or synthetic top. For your legs, wear thermal or Lycra sweat pants. Finish with a breathable, waterproof/ windproof jacket with a full length zipper. Try not to use nylon as it does not breathe well.
A few more tips about dressing may help. Don’t dress too warmly as when you sweat you may get a chill on cold days. Cover exposed areas like your ears, hands and face, and remember that hat thing. Wear one to keep your whole body warmer. Use a scarf over your mouth when the temperature is under freezing. You may not be able to be out in that cold of weather, but it’s a good fact to know for other family members.
In the winter pick up the pace to stay warmer and burn more calories, but make sure your shoes grip well so you don’t slip. Have your shoes fitted well so they are not too tight. If you cut off blood supply, you are more apt to develop frost bite. Warm up well in the winter. We tend to do this in the house. Warm ups will guard against strains which are more likely to occur when your muscles are cold.
Now let’s get on the safety issues we told you we’d share. We know that winter weather warrants special precautions. That’s what we are about this month. Here we describe the warning signs.
Shivering: This is usually the first sign that we are exposed to some serious cold. Shivering is the body’s way of generating heat through uncontrolled muscle contractions. It is the first warning that we need to seek shelter and warmth. The two most dangerous conditions that can result from cold weather exposure are frostbite and hypothermia. My niece developed the later on a walk in the Rockies one summer when the temperature fell after she had forded as stream and gotten wet. She was rescued by the mountain patrol. Her physician told her how lucky she was as she recuperated in the hospital.
Frostbite: This is a condition that describes the freezing of superficial tissues of the face, ears, fingers, and toes. The symptoms to look for are as follows: pain, burning, numbness, tingling, hard and white skin, blisters or peeling of the skin, itchy skin, and finally the skin becomes firm, shiny and gray-yellow. To treat frostbite, get to a warm, dry place and remove tight clothing. Raise affected areas and apply warm, moist compresses to areas affected. Do NOT rub frostbite or apply direct heat.
Hypothermia is the more severe response to exposure to the cold, and is defined as a significant drop in body core temperature. The symptoms include: intense shivering, cold sensation, goose bumps, confusion, numbness, lack of coordination, sluggishness, difficulty speaking, mental confusion, stumbling, depression, muscle stiffness, trouble seeing, and finally unconsciousness.
Treatment is to take the person into a warm dry place or warm the person with blankets, extra dry clothing or your own body heat.
How do you avoid these dangerous conditions? We already discussed clothing and covering of the body. Let’s add staying dry. When you are wet or damp, you increase your loss of body heat.
Keep your feet dry. Socks are very important and should wick perspiration away from your feet and still retain insulation.
Finally, you have to remain hydrated. Dehydration affects your body’s ability to regulate body heat and increases the risk of frostbite. Fluids, especially water, are as important in cold weather as in the heat. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine because these are dehydrating.
Winter is not the season to forget hypoglycemia. If you take insulin or certain oral agents, you may experience it. Take your blood glucose level before you start to exercise. Know what to eat depending on your blood glucose level and what type of exercise you will be doing. For example, if your blood glucose level is below 100, eat 1 piece of fruit or 1 piece of bread for light exercise, 1/2 sandwich with 1 cup milk or 1 fruit for moderate exercise, or 1 sandwich with 1 cup milk and 1 fruit for strenuous exercise.
Make sure you bring along your glucometer and any extra supplies you may need. Extra carbs just in case you move from moderate to strenuous exercise and need the extra calories. Don’t exercise outside if the weather is below your limit that your health team has set for you. This will depend on your medical conditions. Exercise is important, but staying safe and healthy is more important. Make sure you have skin treatment for dry skin when you exercise outside. There are grease free ointments that will keep your feet and hands soft. Make sure you use protection on your face also. Again, ask your doctor. You don’t have to spend a fortune on creams. Many are available at the drug store.
Please see your physician if you are just now deciding to get with an exercise program. Your health care team should be able to help you set goals. You will learn which exercises are best for you to start with and how to do them. If your health care team is not able to do this for you, get information from the local ADA chapter or go to a gym that is hospital based. Talk to someone who knows about diabetes and any other medical conditions you have. Ask questions about how they would help you if you have a reaction to medication etc. If the answers are inappropriate, go elsewhere.
Our last proviso is that we all must exercise. It will keep us healthy and forestall complications of diabetes. Winter is not the time to hide away. It is the time to plan what we do depending on the weather. We have to remember to include aerobics, strength training, flexibility exercising, and warm up and cool downs. Change off. Try a new exercise or a new group. Join a group or get a friend. My friend takes “no” to mean ‘yes”, so we exercise every morning. The swift pay off is often a skinny latte, and the long-term pay off is keeping our waists.