Joggers at Longshore Club Park - Photo Julie Porter
December runners at Longshore Club Park – Photo Julie Porter

Sponsored by Nuvance Health  

By David Lomnitz MD, Section Chief, Division of Cardiology, Nuvance Health

There are many benefits to living in southern Connecticut, especially if you enjoy exercising outdoors. If you enjoy working out but can’t stand being cooped up inside during the colder months, then the great outdoors could be the answer you have been looking for.  

With the first day of winter upon us, the thought of exercising outdoors, going to the beach, or taking a walk on the trail, may not be the first idea that comes to your mind. However, you may be surprised at both the positive physical and mental health benefits of incorporating an outdoor cold weather workout or physical activity into your winter routine. According to the National Library of Medicine, spending time in nature can have positive impacts on your mental health and being close to green areas can help lower stress and lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Get out of the house and stay active  

Winter life in southern Connecticut can get stagnant. The days are short, and the sun is never overhead. The longer nights and sunlight angle can make winter seem dark and dreary, especially if you spend a lot of time indoors. Getting outside of the house during the colder months can feel like a task on its own but it is a great way to beat the winter blues.  

Exercises and activities to keep your body moving  

Use your best judgment before attempting any cold weather outdoor exercise or activity. Make sure to check your local forecast before heading out. ‘How cold is too cold?’ is a matter of perspective and everyone responds differently to temperatures in their environment. Ensure you are fully comfortable being outside before you begin your exercise.  

Learn more about preventive cardiology at Nuvance Health.  

Adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate cardio or 75 minutes of intense physical activity every week–and winter is no exception.  

Jogging on Compo Road S - Photo Dave Matlow
Winter jogging on Soundview Drive – Photo Dave Matlow

Running or jogging in cold weather is an easy way to get some outdoor winter exercise that involves cardio. If you want to lose weight and get fit, then cold weather running might be one way to reach your goal. A recent study shows a connection between weight loss and frequent exposure to cold temperatures. Remember to wear layers and to stay hydrated. If you are running on the road, wear brightly colored clothes so drivers can easily see you.

Hiking in Devil's Den - Photo Julio Perez Fontan
Winter hiking in Devil’s Den – Photo Julio Perez Fontan

Hiking is an all-time favorite among outdoor enthusiasts and luckily, there are plenty of trails in southern Connecticut. All you need to get started is some well-fitted hiking boots or sneakers and some warm clothing. Here’s a link to the state directory of parks and trails. Hiking is not only a cardio workout that helps strengthen the heart, but also a relaxing experience to ease your mind while surrounded by nature.     

 

Fat biking is becoming a popular way to enjoy riding a bicycle in the snow while challenging yourself physically. Fat biking is a great way to burn calories while getting exercise outdoors during the winter as it proves to be both an adventure and a fitness experience. Just like the name suggests, the tires on fat bikes are much wider than your typical mountain bike tire. The fat bike tire is larger and tougher so that you can easily ride through a snowy trail.  

Kayaking during the winter is more common than you might think, and it’s a great way to get some exercise. Connecticut is home to many state parks and beaches that are open year-round and offer access to flat water or Long Island Sound. Kayaking can be a peaceful and tranquil experience accompanied by opportunities to be out in nature and see wildlife. Kayaking, like all paddle sports, helps to build upper body and core muscle strength.    

Skiing is the gold standard of winter activities because it is a full-body workout. Cross-country skiing is one of the most physically demanding winter activities because it does not involve the use of lifts like the ones at resorts.    

Ice skating is an enjoyable winter activity and also great exercise. Ice skating helps to keep you physically active, and studies suggest figure skating can sharpen motor skills, help with your ability to take risks and overcome mental barriers, develop courage, and self-esteem. The Westport PAL’s rink at Longshore is a seasonal gem.

Paddle tennis Paddle tennis, a fast-paced racquet sport gaining global popularity, could be your ideal winter solution. Paddle tennis is a fantastic cardio workout that elevates your heart rate and bolsters endurance. The fast-paced nature of the game is a one-way ticket to improving your cardiovascular fitness while reducing the risk of heart-related issues.

Tips for exercising outdoors safely  

Taking precautions when exercising or doing outdoor physical activities in the cold will ensure you have a great experience. Here are some tips on how to prepare for your time outside:

● Warm up before and after by stretching or walking in place.  

● To prevent hypothermia and frostbite, choose proper clothing for the elements and pay close attention to specific needs such as rain gear, waterproof or water-resistant material, snow pants, jackets, gloves, a hat and scarf.

● When the wind chill is -20°F frostbite can occur in just 30 minutes. Limit time outside and take frequent breaks indoors during extreme cold and windchill. Watch out for snow and ice and wear proper shoes or boots to prevent slips and falls.

● Drink plenty of water while outdoors. Staying hydrated in cold weather is just as important as it is in hot weather. Drink water or sports drinks with electrolytes before and after your workouts even if you aren’t thirsty.  

● Recognize the signs of hypothermia such as shivering, exhaustion or feeling very tired, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

● Recognize the signs of frostbite such as redness or pain, skin that feels firm or waxy, and numbness. If you suspect you might have frostbite or hypothermia, seek medical attention immediately and use these tips:

● Do take your temperature. If below 95°F, seek medical care immediately

● Do get to a warm area  

● Do remove wet clothing  

● Do warm up with dry layers or blankets or clothing  

● Do place skin affected by frostbite in warm water  

● Do NOT place skin affected by frostbite in hot water

● Do NOT use fireplaces or artificial heat sources for warming frostbite

● Do NOT rub or put pressure on areas with frostbite

Embrace these cold weather months and find ways to exercise outside. Have fun!  

References

https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Trail-and-Camping-Maps—CT-State-Parks-and-Forests

https://ctdeep.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html

https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf

https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23267-9

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895006/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3763332/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763839/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6316702/

https://www.wpalrink.com/

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-and-physical-activity/five-tips-exercising-safely-during-cold-weather

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html https://www.cdc.gov/orr/infographics/ast-frostbite.htm

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-and-physical-activity/safety-tips-exercising-outdoors-older-adults#cold

https://www.weather.gov/wrn/infographics_winter

https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/tips-for-cold-weather-training

https://www.weather.gov/dlh/extremecold

https://www.imba.com/fat-biking-best-practices

Dr. David Lomnitz is a board-certified cardiologist and section chief of cardiology at Norwalk Hospital. He specializes in cardiovascular imaging to determine heart health. He aims to provide excellent cardiac care with the personal connection needed for a strong patient-physician relationship. He is bilingual in Spanish. Learn more Dr. Lomnitz and Nuvance Health Medical Practice Cardiology in Norwalk.


Note: Nuvance Health has sponsored this content for Westport Journal. Nuvance Health is a system of nonprofit hospitals, medical practices and outpatient healthcare services throughout the Hudson Valley and western Connecticut, including nearby Norwalk Hospital. Visit nuvancehealth.org for more information.