Daniel  J. Green by Daniel J. Green

Getting adequate exercise is challenging for many people, especially when the weather turns frigid in many areas of the country and it becomes increasingly difficult to get outside and get moving. Couple that with the restrictions associated with COVID-19 and it’s easy to see how this winter presents a unique set of potential obstacles.

Before we turn our attention to outdoor exercise, you may want review some of the do’s and don’ts associated with exercising with a face covering. The bottom line is that a mask should be looked at as a partial barrier against the virus, as opposed to a complete shield. For that reason, social distancing should always be maintained, whether you are exercising indoors or outdoors.

The Active People, Healthy Nation initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a mission of helping 27 million Americans become physically active and “creating an active America, together.” And the health and wellness benefits of physical activity, including improvement in immune function and psychological health, are more important now than ever. Unfortunately, inclement weather can be a barrier to getting more people moving more often, which is why it’s so important to understand how to maximize safety.

It’s important to highlight that physical activity in cold weather can be dangerous for people who have, or at risk for, cardiovascular disease. Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, increasing blood pressure and causing reduced blood flow to the heart. This effect, in combination with the increased oxygen demand by the heart during physical exertion, can lead to cardiac symptoms and potentially a heart attack in vulnerable individuals.

For this reason, anyone—but particularly those individuals who have, or are at risk for, cardiovascular disease—who opts to brave the cold and perform outdoor physical activity should consider the following practical tips to ensure it’s a reasonably safe experience (learn more about each of these tips for Keeping Cold-weather Physical Activity Safe):

  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Bundle in layers.
  • Wear bright and/or reflective clothing.
  • Cover your head.
  • Wear shoes with good traction.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Extend your warm-up and cool-down.
  • Start low and progress slowly.
  • Let your food digest.
  • Report any changes to your doctor.
  • Know when to say no.
  • Have someone on standby.
  • Know when to stop.
  • Be prepared for an emergency.

While exercising may become more difficult in the winter months, it’s important to remember the many benefits of staying active, for both you and your family. Exercise is a great way to break the monotony of working from home, homeschooling and any of the countless other challenges we’re all facing right now. And kids will really benefit from the stress relief and the improvements in focus and attention that come with regular physical activity.

So, get creative, try new things and, most importantly, stay safe out there!