Sara Stringfield

Brisk temperatures and gloomy skies may make you want to take your exercise indoors, but don’t miss an opportunity to lift those winter blues, and boost your energy level and immune system by taking it outside.

“It’s important for your heart health to continue your exercise routine during the cold weather months,” said L. Todd Breeding, MD, Baptist Health Medical Group Cardiology in Richmond.

“For those already into exercise, heart-friendly activity such as running, walking and cycling can be safely performed outdoors during cold weather months, with the right clothing and proper planning,” Breeding said. “Exercise boosts your immune system, so an added benefit may be fewer winter colds.”

Ask your healthcare provider if more vigorous winter outdoor sports — such as skiing, snowboarding, winter hiking or skating — would be appropriate for you.

If you’re new to exercise, it’s best to start indoors.

Studies have shown that beginning vigorous physical activity under harsh winter conditions can increase your chances of having a heart attack.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people who are outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, even lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain your heart. The AHA also points out that people with coronary artery disease are more likely to have angina in cold weather.

Pointers for outdoor exercise

If you want to safely exercise outdoors in the colder months, here are some helpful tips:

Gradually get into condition.

Dress in layers that you can remove as you begin to sweat and put back on as you cool down. Choose fabrics that wick moisture away from your body as the garment closest to your skin, followed by a fleece layer and topped with a breathable, waterproof layer.

Protect your hands and feet. Wear thin gloves under a heavier pair. Put on two pairs of socks or thicker thermal socks.

Cover your head, neck and mouth.

Wear sunscreen if exercising in the snow or at high altitudes.

Head into the wind at the start of your workout so you have the wind at your back on the way home.

Take wind chill into account. If the temperature falls below zero, with a wind chill factor, it might be best to exercise indoors that day. Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Avoid alcohol before exercising.

Learn more about heart health at BaptistHealth.com.

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