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Health Information Staying Active in the Winter Months

When temperatures plummet, it's tempting to position yourself firmly on the couch until the crocuses emerge in early spring. But you shouldn't let cold weather get in the way of your exercise routine, and you don't have to.

"Everyone should remember to make time for their health through regular physical activity," says James A. Young, MD, chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rush. "Because, if you don't, you'll have to make time for illness."

So, rather than using winter weather as an excuse, Young says, "We can take it as an opportunity to be more creative about how we approach getting our daily dose of physical activity,"

Here are some suggestions for staying active throughout the chilly winter months.

Getting Over the Hurdles

Here are some ideas to help continue working on your fitness goals indoors:

  • Walk down the hall in your apartment building*
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator*
  • Go to a gym or other fitness club
  • Go to an enclosed public space like a shopping mall

*Provided the area is safe and uncluttered

Start Slowly and Build on Your Success

Young suggests increasing the amount of physical activity in small increments. "You can increase the time you spend by as little as 15 or 30 seconds each day. That small amount can add up to an extra seven and half minutes per month. And those extra minutes can mean a world of difference for your health."

Of course, before you start a regular exercise routine, you should consult with your doctor to see if there's any reason why you should not be physically active.

Being Safe and Careful

Winter can limited you to indoor activities, because of wet, slippery or icy surfaces. "Safety is a serious concern in the winter," Young says. "You may be getting needed exercise, but if you fall and injure yourself, you quickly lose any benefit from the exercise."

There are safety concerns indoors, too. Young recommends you stop exercise and contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Light headedness or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Heart palpitations (irregular heart beat)
  • Sudden unexplained weakness one side of the body

"Don't wait for these symptoms to pass," says Young. "You need to stop your activity and contact your doctor or, depending on how severe the symptoms are, call 911 as soon as possible."

Another safety issue may be that you need to use a cane or a walker when you're physically active. "Make sure all of your equipment is well maintained," Young says. "Check the rubber stoppers on the ends of canes and walkers and make sure walkers are sturdy and in good working order."
Worth the effort

Although it might be a little harder to push yourself during the winter, working out is likely to bring dividends in the spring.

"If you keep up your physical activity in the winter, you're more likely to have the health and mobility to really enjoy the warmer weather when it returns."

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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