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Humans Were Never Meant to Hibernate!
Why hibernate until spring? Take advantage of the cold and snow, embrace your adventurous spirit, and learn an outdoor cold weather sport. Winter sports are a great way to keep active during those cold winter months.
Many winter sports are social or family-oriented and building strong bodies and minds are just two of the benefits of participation. Advances in winter sport equipment design have decreased the learning curve and light-weight and cozy apparel keeps the cold away and the body flexible.
Before you begin any form of exercise, be sure to talk with your doctor or health care provider. Have a medical check-up, especially if you are over 35 years of age.
Winter outdoor sports and games are varied:
There is speed, snow and lots of laughs for all. Sled and toboggan runs used to be everywhere. Now they are less common, but here’s a list of runs organized by state.
Serious skaters should invest in a pair of good skates, but the occasional skater can always rent a pair for daily use at their local rink. There is a definite learning curve with any form of ice skating, which may result in a few falls. Be sure to wear the appropriate protective gear (helmet, knee and elbow pads) to avoid serious injury.
Many communities have indoor ice rinks where you can skate year round. Arena Maps and Find Rinks are two places to find a rink in your area. If you want to find a local rink that allows you to skate outdoors your best bet is to check your local Parks and Recreation website for locations.
Warning: It can be tempting to skate on the local pond, lake or river but that can be dangerous! You could fall through the ice and not be able to climb out again. Never skate in areas like this unless they have been tested and never skate in these areas alone or at night.
Cross country skiing is easy to learn, accessible (sometimes you can ski out your own front door) and relatively inexpensive. Cross country skiing is a great work-out, but still gentle enough for ALL ages, from tots to grandparents.. The sport involves simultaneous use of arms and legs utilizing ski equipment including boots, poles, and skis. The main difference between cross country and alpine skiing is the heel is “free” in cross country skiing which allow you to ascend hills as well as descend and of course move across flat terrain.
It’s possible to cross country ski in most parks, outdoor recreation areas or even a local field, but there are also more than 350 cross country ski areas in the U.S. and Canada. These areas are designated and groomed for cross country skiing with trails of varying difficulty and other amenities. Most are less than two hours from urban centers and many are even within an hour's drive.
Cross country skiing does require some special equipment, (boots, skis and poles), though it is one of the least expensive of winter sports. If you aren’t sure if you want to make a long term investment in equipment check your local winter sports equipment store to see if they have rental options. Most cross country ski resorts will have equipment rental packages available.
Here are two sites to find a cross country ski area in your neighborhood.
Although snowshoeing has been around for thousands of years, it is now the fastest growing winter sport. Snow shoeing is great because it is very gentle on the body, provides a total body workout, and burns as much as 600 calories per hour, 45% more than walking or running!
Prime areas for snowshoeing are at Nordic centers, which are usually in or around a ski resort. However, other types of snowshoeing destinations include bed and breakfast inns, mountain lodges, local, county, state and national parks, snow-covered golf courses, and much more.
Snow Boarding – is a relatively “new” winter sport, growing in popularity with roots in downhill skiing, surfing and skate boarding. Snow boards resemble a wide single ski and use a special boot and binding to keep the feet into place during use.
Ski resorts are the place to go to snow board so some of the cautions for alpine skiing surrounding equipment and price are the same for snowboarding.
Curling – is a team sport played on ice. Two teams with four players each, take turns sliding eight heavy, polished granite stones across the ice towards a circular target. Points are scored for the stones resting closest to the centre of the target at
Broomball – is a team sport played at a hockey rink, either indoors or outdoors, depending on climate and location. Broomball is played with two teams consisting of six players: a goaltender and five others. The object of the game is to score more goals than your opponent. Goals are scored by hitting the ball into your opponent's net using your broom. Tactics and plays are similar to those used in sports such as ice hockey, roller hockey and floor ball.
Players hit a small ball around the ice with a stick called a "broom." The broom may have a wooden or aluminum shaft and has a rubber-molded triangular head similar in shape to that of a regular broom. Players wear special rubber-soled shoes instead of skates, and the ice is prepared in such a way that it is smooth and dry to improve traction.
Not only can winter sports be enjoyed by people of all ages, any winter sport can be adapted so that individuals can participate throughout their lifetime—regardless of ability level or physical challenges.
How to Make the Most of Your Outdoor Activity
If you come from a warmer climate and this is your first time experiencing the cold, pay special attention to this section.
No matter which winter sport you choose, staying warm is important. Your body needs to stay warm to work properly. When your body is at the right temperature, it won't need to spend as much energy getting warm which will provide maximum energy for winter fun. The right clothing will help you do that.
New fabrics and insulations are constantly making apparel warmer, more breathable and more waterproof. But there are still a few basics to keep in mind.
Layering your clothes allows you to add or subtract layers depending upon your activity and the weather conditions. In general, the three main layers are wicking, insulating and weather protection.
Wicking is the layer you wear closest to your skin and is supposed to draw moisture away from your body and through the outer layers of your clothes so it can evaporate (think long underwear). Choose silk or a synthetic fabric that boasts “wicking power”. Cotton for outdoor winter wear is a no-no. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture, the exact opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. The wicking layer should fit snugly but not tight to the skin and be loose enough to trap air between layers, but not too bulky to restrict movement.
The Insulating layer is worn between the wicking layer and the protection layer. Its purpose is to keep heat, from your body, in and cold out. This layer includes sweaters, sweatshirts, vests and pullovers. Popular insulation materials include:
The Protection layer is worn on the outside and consists of a “shell” and pants, which guards you against the elements of winter.
Winter shells and pants should be made from materials that repel water and protect you from snow, sleet or rain and blocks the wind, while also letting perspiration evaporate. Depending on the weather and type of winter activity, you may want to have protective layers with increasing amounts of insulation.
Always look for functional hoods, cuffs, pockets and zippers that will make garments comfortable in all types of outdoor weather.
Socks – a single pair of comfortable well fitting wool socks should be all that is necessary for maximum comfort. Too many layers of socks can inhibit circulation and cause problems with moisture and blisters.
Headwear is essential for warmth since you can lose as much as 60% of your body heat through your head. There are thousands of choices and styles to choose from and depending on weather, wearing a hat may eliminate the need for one of your layers.
Scarves or neck gaiters are especially nice for particularly cold or windy weather. If you do wear a scarf be sure to tuck it in to avoid getting tangled up in your arms or poles.
Sunglasses or Goggles can be an important item to have especially if it is a bright sunny day or windy. Make sure your eye protection has full UV protection.
Gloves or mittens are a necessity to protect your fingers from frostbite. Gloves or mittens should fit so you can move your digits around in your glove. Restricting finger movement can actually reduce circulation and make you feel colder.
Now that you are all geared up, here is one final note: Don't forget to put on sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15. It might seem odd, but sunlight, reflects the white snow and ice back onto your face and can result in sunburn. So cover up with sunscreen and use a lip balm that contains sunscreen. It’s as important to apply sunscreen in the winter as it is in the summer!
As a person with diabetes you need to observe some safety precautions, plus!
Carry Medical Alert ID. Sometimes seconds can make the difference in a life and death situation. You want emergency professionals to know your status.
Carry Contact Information. In addition to emergency contact information, also carry the name and number of your primary care physician. Also be sure to carry your medical insurance card and emergency number for your medical insurance company.
Always carry your meds and testing supplies and test your blood glucose levels before and during physical activity.
If you are participating in extended periods of physical activity, listen to your body for signs you might be going low and check your glucose at least every hour.
Carry snacks (and a source of rapid-acting glucose like Dex4 Glucose Tablets) to replenish energy burned or to treat for lows. Remember, 15 grams of carbohydrate last for about 30 minutes of exercise.
Check the weather for snow and ice conditions prior to starting out. Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature to ensure safety while outdoors. This is especially important if you are participating in skiing or snow shoeing that takes you onto trails or in the back country.
Two dangers to consider during any winter activity are hypothermia and frostbite.
Early frostbite symptoms include: numbness and tingling in your digits, lack of feeling and poor motion.
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you, or anyone with you, is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite.
Wear appropriate safety/protective gear. Goggles, helmets and padding may be appropriate depending on the sport. Always check your equipment, such as ski and snowboard bindings to make sure they are in good working order.
Never participate alone in a winter sport and observe appropriate safety precautions.
Warm up thoroughly and know your limits. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury and exercising in the winter is no exception! Call it a day if you are exhausted or in pain. Many skiers are injured on the final, "one last run".
If injured during any winter excursion and pain or discomfort persists, follow up with an orthopedic surgeon to examine the injury.
Coming in from the Cold. Time spent in the cold makes you think you are hungry, so the temptation to grab something carbohydrate-rich can be overwhelming.
Dawn Swidorski -- spent 30 winters in Michigan participating in outdoor sports. With the exception of snowboarding and broomball she’s tried all the sports listed here in addition to: dog sledding, ice boating and others.
Updated April 9, 2013
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