Staying Active in the Colorado Winter

Staying Active in the Colorado Winter
by Dr. Joel Greco, NASM CPT
So here we are, with another beautiful Colorado summer in our rear-view mirror. The excitement of fall colors, Halloween, the World Series and football is accompanied by the anticipation of changes in the weather that can provide challenges to your health and wellness routine. You need to get outside during the winter months, so how do you work around the cold temps and the snow? Well, you can work around them, but you can certainly work in them too! There is the obvious lure of skiing or snowboarding- two fun skill sports that get you out in nature and challenge core and leg muscles. Snowshoeing is a popular winter activity across the Front Range and beyond that provides a challenging cardiovascular workout and strengthens the legs and core while providing a different perspective on many of the mountain landscapes frequented by hikers during the warmer months. A few of the popular spots include St. Mary’s Glacier in Idaho Springs, the Arapahoe Glacier Trail in Nederland, and the Colorado Trail, with its 483 miles of trail stretching from Denver to Durango through six wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges.
These activities aren’t the only ways to get active out in the Colorado cold. There are numerous organized athletic events, adventure and running races all throughout the year; the wintertime is no exception. The SnowDash takes place in and around Hideaway Park in Winter Park in January and comes complete with crawling, running, dashing and darting, all over, up, and down, steep snow terrain challenges. (Hmmm, sounds like an opportunity for PM to put together a team…). If you’re into running races (yours truly is a 5k guy), the colder temps provide an opportunity to turn in some fast times. Since your body temperature won’t raise as quickly, you can keep your respiratory rate lower (with controlled breathing, of course) and smash that PR.
Even as “soft” as the winters can sometimes be here in Colorado, we can count on some weather during this time of year that simply won’t allow us to get outdoors. However, the inclination to spend more time indoors in the winter months is not all bad when it comes to your exercise habits, particularly if you’re already very active throughout the year. The cold temps present a great opportunity to devote more effort to strength training and cross-training. Though my topic here isn’t the benefits of this type of training, it’s worth the reminder from my most recent blog from a couple of months ago that resistance training burns more calories per hour than traditional cardio and helps to benefit joints and posture. So with the types of workouts we do here at ProjectMOVE, there should be no excuse over the winter for a drop-off in performance or for putting on unwanted pounds, right?!?
Staying active in the winter months present a few unique safety concerns that must be mentioned. While Dos Equis’s “Most Interesting Man in the World” lives by the motto “Safety Third”, ask any coach here at ProjectMove and he or she will agree that safety is at the forefront of any fitness endeavor. That being said, you must first take care of your lungs when active in the cold. It goes without saying that colds, the flu, and other nasties show up a lot more in the winter months. The reasons for this include a greater inclination for us to stay indoors and thus in proximity to each other where we can more easily exchange germs in the absence of fresh air (emphasizing my earlier point about getting outdoors in the winter!).  What you also must keep in mind is that overexertion of your lungs is more of a concern in the cold temps and can possibly introduce harmful bacteria and other microbes into your lungs that can lead to infection and keep you out of the game for a while. You should strongly consider wearing a neoprene face mask when active in temperatures below 30 degrees. In addition to protecting your lungs, you also need to take extra care of your extremities. Yes, in spite of the challenges of raising your body temperature in the colder weather, you will still create significant body heat when exercising intensely, and you may be inclined to skip out on the beanie, the gloves, or the wool socks. However, it’s best to lean a little on the side of overdressing or at least being a little warm. If your head or extremities aren’t receiving adequate circulation during your outdoor activities, you can promote longer-term circulatory problems in addition to making your day on the slopes very uncomfortable. Don’t forget, too, the impact of not having adequate body warmth on your performance. Consider how in our ProjectMove Fit classes, we devote significant time to raising the body temperature in a gradual manner. You should take care to do the same prior to outdoor winter activities in order to help prevent injuries and otherwise aggravating joints and muscles on which you place heavy demand.  
Lastly, a word about the importance of sunlight exposure…While we’re lucky here in Colorado to have 300 days of sunshine throughout the year, the shorter days and colder temperatures in the winter months still present challenges to obtain adequate amounts of sunshine that is important for our overall mood and for absorption of Vitamin D. Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D has important functions in regulating blood calcium levels and cell growth. In addition, Vitamin D helps to lower the risk of colorectal cancer and deficiency of the vitamin may be linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Normally, your body is able to produce all of the Vitamin D it needs- given you get enough exposure to sunlight. With the cold temps often moving us indoors and the shorter days the come with winter, it can be more difficult to get adequate sun exposure this time of year. We’re lucky here in Colorado that we do get ample sun even in the winter months, so we all have less of an excuse here. If your daily schedule keeps you indoors for a majority of the day, it’s a good idea to take some time to go for a walk or otherwise be outside. Even as little as five to ten minutes will be beneficial for sun exposure, provided some region of your skin is exposed to the sunlight. If you are still concerned about getting enough Vitamin D, you can supplement with it, keeping in mind that even at our higher elevations, this may only be necessary in the coldest winter months-January and February- when sunlight is at a minimum. Sun exposure aside, a modest walk or other activity is a great way to keep energy levels up during all times of year, but especially in the winter months when the weather can discourage our bodies from burning the calories they do during the warmer months.  
I hope this insight into getting the most out of your winter health and fitness routine has been most helpful. For more ideas on how to maximize your efforts this time of year, speak to me or any ProjectMove coach today. Now get out there and embrace the cold!…Dr. J