DALLAS - Does a chill in the air make you want to curl up underneath a blanket by the fire? With the right preparation, you can embrace the elements while staying active and healthy. Here are some tips from experts and enthusiasts on how to safely savor some chilly season activities.
Andi Smith, 44, describes herself as a warm-weather runner, although she has a fondness for the winter months.
"There truly is nothing better than a nice, brisk morning run or an afternoon run. Those first few steps walking out the front door when it's cold and dark, you don't want to go. But then you get that crisp morning air, which is so much clearer and cleaner in the winter. It's lovely, just lovely."
Smith is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas. The marathon veteran will coach as many as 45 aspiring marathoners.
Often, she says, first-timers will start training during the summer and then panic as the temperature drops in the fall. She calms them down and shares tips that include:
- Keep your hands warm: "If my hands are warm, I'm golden. If my hands are cold, I'm totally miserable." She recommends mittens on really cold days "because your fingers stay warmer when they're together."
- Have layers to shed: "I have sleeveless shirts that I wear underneath a thicker long-sleeved shirt. Then I use one more layer to block the wind. I can wear regular tights or cold tights with fleecy lining if it's very cold."
- Stretch: "During the summertime, I'm feeling pretty loose in five or 10 minutes, but in the winter it takes 15-20 minutes. Start your run slowly if you're training. If it's a race, do little 50-meter sprints back and forth several times before the gun goes off."
Theresa Cinciripini, 30, has been figure skating five years and competes four or five times a year.
"Dallas is a great place to skate because there are so many rinks. I've met a lot of cool people, made friends and stayed in shape," she says. Sometimes she thinks she's too tired to do it after work, but then the chilly air gets her going where she trains.
"It wakes you up and encourages you to keep moving. You can't stay by the side of the rink or you will get cold."
She also tries to help others on the ice, particularly the girls that she sees freezing in their skating outfits.
"I've helped some parents when I see them with their poor little 5-year-old who is wearing an outfit with normal tights and freezing. I tell them you need to buy the special skating tights and a sweater to wear over the skating dress."
Cinciripini's top tips (including a few from figure-skating coaches Christy Malacrea and Allana Dutton Felder):
Warm up before you hit the rink: Stretch and jump rope, do light stair-stepping or run around the lobby - whatever you need to do to get your heart beating so the cold isn't so shocking.
More than just tights: Wear long johns made of moisture-repellent fabric or fleece under your warm-ups or tights.
Go for it: If you skate hard, you'll warm up quickly.
Andrew Warhoftig, 10, has been playing hockey since he was 4 and actually likes the cold.
But he did learn the hard way that jackets are important.
"I forgot to bring my jacket once and my arms were pretty cold and my hands especially," he says.
Not that it compares to the 30 degrees below zero Celsius in which Andrew's coach, Stan Tugolukov, played hockey outdoors in his native Russia. There, the concern was frostbite. Here, it's important to focus on warming up sufficiently to avoid injuries.
To that end, Tugolukov guides the 16 members of his team in exercises that may include high knees, short sprints, sit-ups, push-ups and toe touches, followed by additional warm-ups on the ice.
"If your muscles are cold and not flexible, every time you exercise hard, you can pull a muscle or a joint," Tugolukov says.
Their additional advice:
- Check your clothing: Make sure there aren't any holes that can let the cold air in. Start out with shorts and T-shirts for off-the-ice exercises so you don't overheat before getting on the ice.
- Don't forget your jacket! Wear a long-sleeve athletic shirt under the padding to help in regulating body temperatures.
Tom Ewton, 67, didn't think of himself as a skier until a friend coaxed him into a trip 20 years ago. Despite breaking ribs and dislocating his shoulder in the first few years, he was hooked. And that inspired him to learn all he could about getting better at his sport.
"When I started, I was overweight and out of shape," says Ewton, who is now president of North Texas Skiers and schedules three or four trips annually for its members. "I've learned the most important conditioning is strengthening your legs and your core so that you can react more readily to off-balance situations, which are very common in skiing. So I do aerobics classes and I jump on a ski machine and other exercise machines - a little of everything."
He also makes sure to loosen up and stretch in his room before going out on the slopes. But as long as he has good overall fitness going into the trip, he finds he can warm up by walking in his ski boots to the lift, carrying his skis.
- Don't forget the sunscreen: "I've been badly burned. The sun's pretty bright and intense on the mountains." He says you need a good lip balm with sunscreen, too.
- What's underneath counts: "Underwear makes a difference," he says. Underwear, socks and gloves that pull moisture away from the body can prove critical for comfort. He advises wearing a sweater over a turtleneck. He also recommends a helmet for both safety and warmth. The better ones have a vent in the front that you can open and let air ventilate on a warm day, he says.
- Drink up: "If you're going to some of these peaks that are 8,000 or 12,000 feet high, altitude sickness can cause terrific headaches. You have to stop and drink plenty of water continuously to adjust." You also need to know when to take a break, he says. "Sometimes you just have to come in out of the cold and warm up."
GENERAL TIPS FOR COLD-WEATHER WORKOUTS
- Ditch the cotton: Cotton absorbs sweat, which will make you even colder. Look for liners made of synthetic polyester and microfiber fabrics that will repel moisture from your skin and layer your clothes so can take outer garments off as you warm up. Stores that specialize in your sport should stock these.
- Cover those ears: Your extremities will get cold fastest; covering the hands and feet may seem obvious when it's cold, but it's just as important to protect your ears.
- Allow extra warm-up time: Your muscles take longer to loosen in the cold. Take time afterward, too, for cool-down stretches and breathing.
- Drink and lather up: Drink plenty of water or drinks with electrolytes, and apply sunscreen, lotion and lip balm to keep skin and lips safe from sunburn, UV rays, and drying and cracking.