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Tips for cold weather activities during COVID

As we head into the fall and winter months of the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor activities will still be safer than indoor gatherings.

“Outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities because they lessen your exposure to high concentrations of virus in the air when people are gathered in areas with poor air circulation,” says Jemese Richards-Boyd, M.D., a Piedmont primary care physician. “Gatherings with those who don’t live with you are still considered higher risk.”

Winter outdoor activities during COVID-19

So, how do you stay safer while braving colder temperatures? Jessica Stewart, ACSM EP-C, a Piedmont exercise physiologist, recommends you choose fall/winter outdoor activities with a cardiovascular-exercise component to help you stay warmer.

“This includes walking, running, cycling, hiking and even jumping rope,” says Stewart. “Think activities where you’re moving and getting your heart rate up, generating heat and burning energy.”

Catch up with a loved one by inviting them on a walk, run, hike or bicycle ride. Both socializing and endorphin-releasing exercise will boost your mood.

If you have kids who want to visit with friends, encourage them to maintain social distancing with outdoor activities like jumping rope, tag or kickball.

If you have access to a fire pit, you can build a fire and enjoy hot beverages or roasting marshmallows with family and friends to stay warm while visiting. If you can’t build a fire, consider an outdoor heater (check safety guidelines to make sure it’s safe for your setting) or pile on the blankets.

Tips for outdoor exercise in cold weather

If you choose to exercise outdoors this winter, be sure to do a warm-up first.

“Warming up will increase blood circulation and decrease the risk of injury,” says Stewart. “You need to prime the muscles, waking them up and getting them ready for exercise. The goal is to increase your heart rate and put your muscles through a full range of motion. Dynamic warm-ups are best before a workout because they get the muscles primed for those movements.”

Examples of dynamic movements include squats, lunges, arm circles, long arm swings, hip circles, calf raises and ankle circles.

How to stay warmer during outdoor activities in the winter

Whether you’re going to sit around an outdoor fire or go for a hike, dress appropriately for the activity to stay warm, says Stewart. She recommends:

  • Wearing layers. Start with a base layer (such as polyester long underwear) that wicks sweat from your skin. Your middle insulating layer should be the warmest (think fleece or wool) to protect you from the cold. Your outer layer (or shell layer) should be waterproof and wind-resistant to protect you from the elements. If you’re doing a more intense form of exercise, like running, you may not need to wear every layer, but bring them with you in case you get cold. You can always remove layers if you get too warm.

  • Choosing the right materials. “Cotton is more absorbent and will soak up sweat easily and take longer to dry,” says Stewart. “Instead, consider wearing polyester or nylon as the first layer since it dries quicker.” Wool or synthetic-material socks are also your best bet since they will wick away sweat.  

  • Wearing bright colors. “Wearing bright clothing will help if it’s dark and gloomy outside so drivers can see you better,” she says.

  • Accessorizing. “Protect your ears by wearing a headband or a hat. Wear gloves and thick socks to protect your fingers and toes. Protect your skin against very cold weather by applying a thin layer of Vaseline to your face. Also, keep in mind that some shoes are designed with vents to help let heat escape, so you may need thicker socks,” says Stewart.

  • Protecting your breathing. “Breathing while exercising when the air is cold and dry is hard,” she says. “The cold, dry air can irritate your airways, so by using a scarf, bandana or a breathable balaclava, you can warm the air for inhalation.”

Visiting indoors during COVID-19

If you must visit indoors with people who live outside your household, Dr. Richards-Boyd recommends that everyone wear a mask and that you open the windows during the gathering to increase airflow.

“I recommend those at increased risk for COVID-19 complications avoid gatherings,” she says.

However, Dr. Richards-Boyd notes that social distancing measures, while necessary for everyone’s safety, can worsen loneliness and isolation.

“Be sure to stay in contact with friends and family virtually or while socially distancing and wearing a mask,” she says.

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