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Winter Exercise Can Lift Your Spirits

Creativity will help you stick to your workout routine, even in foul weather

TUESDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Winter can put a chill on even the most enthusiastic exerciser's plans. It's hard to get motivated to go jogging when you have to sidestep icy patches. And who wants to go to the gym when you have to scrape the ice off the windshield first?

But sticking to your exercise program throughout the colder months is beneficial for multiple reasons, experts say. Not only can physical activity lift your spirits during days of limited sunlight, it can help make sure you're in good shape when it's time to pull out those shorts and bathing suits again.

To exercise safely in more challenging conditions, you may need to make some adjustments to your routine, said Tony Breitbach, director of athletic training education at Saint Louis University.

"A change in weather should bring a change to your mindset," Breitbach said. "As temperatures get colder ... you need to have a winter sports strategy."

When exercising outdoors, it's important to dress properly. Wear layers that you can peel off as necessary. Ideally, the layer closest to your skin should be made of a breathable wicking material and not sweat-absorbing cotton. Then add a layer of fleece or cotton for warmth and, finally, a windbreaker or waterproof outer layer.

Make sure you've adequately insulated your extremities. The face, fingers and toes are most likely to get frostbitten. Pain or tingling in your ears, fingers or toes is a sign that it's time to come in from the cold, Breitbach said.

And don't forget a hat. Substantial body heat is lost through your head.

Though you may feel less thirsty in cold weather, continue to drink water while exercising. Avoid caffeine and alcohol-based beverages, which can contribute to dehydration.

If you run in the dark, wear reflective clothing so that drivers can see you.

Warming up is extra important when it's cold outside. Before leaving home, do some stretching and other exercises to limber up. Once outside, start with some brisk walking before beginning to jog.

Also watch out for overuse injuries. Indoor surfaces such as gym floors or concrete can be hard on the knees and can worsen overuse issues.

If the winter blues have extended to your feelings about exercise, get creative. Find an indoor pool or go to that Pilates class you've been wanting to try. Ice skating and cross-country skiing burn lots of calories. And there's nothing like a snowball fight with your kids to get your heart pumping.

More information

The American Fitness Professionals & Associates has more on winter fitness.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: Saint Louis University Medical Center, news release, Dec. 18, 2009

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