6 Tips for the Best Cold-Weather Workout

December 6, 2022

With temperatures getting colder, it may be tempting to get back to the gym.

Henry Ford Health logoBut it’s still possible to get your exercise outdoors if you prepare properly to counter the chillier conditions that accompany living in Michigan this time of year.

Winter Weather Workout Tips

While cold air can make it challenging to breathe, our bodies adjust to reduced temperatures over time. The key thing to watch for is hypothermia (dangerously low body heat).

"Viruses are more likely to attack our bodies if we're in a cold state," says Ramsey Shehab, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. "If your internal body temperature drops significantly, it can suppress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infection."

The good news: Adopting these six strategies can help ensure your outdoor workouts are safe and effective.

Check the forecast. Know what the outdoor weather is and plan accordingly. Pay attention to the temperature, wind and moisture level. If temps dip below zero, the wind chill is extreme, or it's raining or snowing, exercising outside can be risky.

Dress in layers. Dressing too warmly can increase your risk of overheating (even in frigid air). Instead, dress in layers so you can remove layers as you warm up. "The innermost layer should be made of moisture-wicking material," Dr. Shehab says. "The middle layer should have thermal protection like wool or fleece, and the outermost layer should be waterproof and breathable to protect you from wind, rain and sleet." If you get wet and moisture soaks through your clothing, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature up.

Pay attention to your hands, feet and head. When you're engaged in a heart-pumping workout, blood flows to your core, leaving your fingers, toes and head vulnerable to the cold. Wear a hat, gloves and warm socks. If it's especially chilly, consider wearing a scarf.

Take time to warm up (and cool down). Instead of leaving your cozy house and launching straight into a sprint, take time to warm up your major muscle groups. "Your joints may be stiffer when it's cold, so warming up and stretching out is especially important during the winter months," Dr. Shehab says.

Stay hydrated. People tend to think more about dehydration during the summer months, but you can get dehydrated in the winter, too. "Proper hydration before, during and after exercise is very important, not just to maintain health and well-being, but also to stave off infection," Dr. Shehab says.

Take a vitamin D supplement. Even though you're exercising outdoors, sunlight is in low supply in Michigan during the winter. To keep your immune system humming, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. "Making sure you have sufficient vitamin D can enhance your bone health, boost your immune system and keep your hormones in balance," Dr. Shehab says.

Get Savvy About Outdoor Workouts

Frigid temperatures can create obstacles for even the most enthusiastic exercisers. While it's tempting to table exercise until warmer weather returns, there are things you can do to make outdoor — and indoor — workouts more enjoyable.

You don't have to stick to the same routine of running, walking and circuit training. Take advantage of the winter chill to participate in activities like ice skating, sledding, hiking, skiing and cross-country skiing. You can even take interval workouts outdoors. Climb stairs, hike up hills or just play with a kettlebell in the snow.

"Exercise is medicine," Dr. Shehab says. "It can sometimes replace medication for people who have diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions. It's good for the mind and the body, and it can help stave off infections, including COVID-19."

The caveat: Working out, outdoors or indoors, is not recommended for people who are currently battling the coronavirus. Instead, it's important to preserve your energy. Once your symptoms begin to improve, you can gradually increase your exercise level.

To find a doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Ramsey Shehab is the deputy chief of Sports Medicine at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine and Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township.

Sports Injuries & Student Athletes: A Parent’s Guide

February 6, 2024

Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also builds confidence and teaches them valuable life lessons, like working as a team and the value of hard work. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious injuries that will take them out of the game altogether.

Henry Ford Health"Sports help with physical and psychological well-being," says Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "However, year-round participation in a single sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout."

Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren't fully developed. Furthermore, the pressures of year-round participation and focus on excelling, rather than enjoyment, can negatively affect a young athlete's mental health.

Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing many visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.

How To Prevent Sports Injuries

Preparing your children appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Santa Barbara offers four key pieces of advice to help your youth athletes avoid injury.

1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at and enjoy.

2. Warm up. Make sure your child is properly warming up before they play any sport. Dynamic warmups--incorporating exercises that involve moving the body such as lunges, high knees and arm circles – are preferable to stretching alone.

3. Strengthen core muscles. Building up core strength takes pressure off joints in the arms and legs. It gives young athletes more momentum and can help improve their performance.

4. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is allowing time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.

Children participating in a sport should never push through pain, and injuries should be promptly evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Physical injuries are often more obvious, while mental health issues due to sports participation can be more subtle. Symptoms such as fatigue and declining performance can be signs of burnout. In these situations, rest is also important.

"Sports should be fun for kids," says Dr. Santa Barbara. "Avoiding single-sports specialization at a young age keeps the focus on enjoyment while reducing the physical and psychological risks of year-round participation."

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/sportsmedicine or call 313-651-1969.

Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., is a non-operative sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus, Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.