By Ryan Jones, DPT, CSCS
With winter making its approach known, there is a strong urge to fall into hibernation mode - when exercise routines and healthy diets disappear into the endless snow. But the key to staying healthy this winter is consistency. That means to see the best results with your programs you must stay on track. Don't use the holidays as an excuse to skip exercise or fall off the clean-eating wagon. Instead, use this time to show off your dedication to healthy living.
Muscle strains and back pain are common ailments during the winter months. They often occur because people neglect a consistent exercise regime and instead try to stay in shape through sporadic activities. But in order to be active, you have to stay active. You can't take several weeks or months off from your normal routine and expect to return to the field or gym at a higher level - or even the same level - as when you left. You know what I'm talking about. The ole "It's January 2 and I haven't been to the gym since Thanksgiving so I'm going to do a workout so punishing that it will make up for missing a month and a half."
That never works, and often backfires. So what can you do to avoid the muscle strains and joint pains associated with an irregular exercise schedule, or doing too much too soon after a long layoff?
It's much colder out than the rest of the year and cold muscles are more injury prone. Proper warm up becomes vitally important to preventing injuries during the winter months.
For those who like to play sports or engage in intense exercise sessions in the gym, doing so on a regular basis is critical. Let the weekend warriors deal with injuries. You are going to get in your sweat sessions regularly throughout the week so your body isn't overwhelmed come the weekend. Want to run that 10K in the snow on Saturday, or go skiing with the family on Sunday? Go right ahead - as long as you've been training consistently.
Use Proper Technique
If you want winter chores like shoveling to be a breeze and not a route to the ER think safety first. Employ a well-designed ergonomic shovel and use proper lifting technique: lift with the legs, not the back; maintain a strong core at all times; and take breaks as needed in order to ensure good form. And don't be a hero. If you haven't been exercising regularly and have access to a snow blower, use it! Your back will thank you! (If you have been hitting the gym regularly you might consider using intense snow shoveling as a cardio workout. Not a bad idea, just use caution. More than one strained back, even heart attack, has been attributed to shoveling.)
Maintain Your Footing
As winter brings ice and slick conditions, proper footwear with good traction is crucial to staying on your feet. However, should the ice or snow win a battle and you find yourself tumbling to the ground, attempt to fall with grace and roll into your fall rather than fighting it. This will minimize your risk for injury.
Most importantly, enjoy the holiday season by spending time with those you love and showing them how much you appreciate them every chance you get. Wishing everyone and their family the happiest and healthiest of holiday seasons!