PUBLISHED: 7:04 PM on Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Are you ready? (for winter sports)
Being unprepared for winter weather could lead to injury
A few weeks ago (yes, in July), we saw our first dusting of snow on top of Mt. McGinnis. Despite the pouring rain, many people have been finding ways to get outside and exercise. This is good.

As we head on into fall and then shortly after when winter hits, the impending changes in season often bring visions of skating, skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports activities, leading many people to rush out to embrace these sports before they're physically ready. This enthusiasm can lead to injuries if you aren't mentally and physically prepared for winter conditions.

  Before hitting the slopes, be sure to get your body physically conditioned to handle the wear and tear of winter weather. Other important things to keep in mind are proper hydration, sunscreen and warmup and cool-down exercises.
Exercising or playing a sport in cold conditions can lead to injuries and reduced performance, but that doesn't mean you have to stop exercising in the winter. Most cold-related injuries can be prevented with preparation and correct equipment.

Are you ready? Here are some tips for staying safe and free from injury.

Start getting ready now. Exercising year-round is the best strategy. It helps your body adjust to the strenuous movement that winter sports require. If your body is not in good shape, start with a conditioning routing to get your muscles into shape. Jogging, walking, weight-lifting, biking and aerobic activities are all good options in getting yourself ready for winter activity.

If you haven't exercised regularly in months, don't expect your body to perform sporting miracles during a weekend on the ski slopes. The best way to avoid many sports-related injuries in winter is to maintain an adequate fitness level all year round.

If you haven't been getting outside to exercise, you will want to start training outdoors instead of inside. Your body needs time to acclimate - those first few breaths of frigid air can be shocking if you aren't used to it.

Be aware that sunburn can occur even on cold and cloudy days (especially when skiing or snowboarding as UV radiation is more severe in alpine regions). Apply broad-spectrum 30+ sunscreen to exposed skin. Also wear eyewear with UV protection. This isn't something we think a lot about in Southeast, especially this year, but it is important.

Another thing to keep in mind is that cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. Warm up thoroughly before playing your chosen winter sport and remember to take cold temperatures into account and spend more time warming up than usual.

While you may be anxious to get off the slopes or back to the comfort of your home, remember that "cooling down" thoroughly after exercise is just as important as warming up. Include plenty of slow, sustained stretching exercises to avoid injury.

Don't forget your fluids - drink plenty of water before, during and after sporting and stay away from alcoholic beverages. While an alcoholic drink seems to warm you up, it actually narrows your blood vessels, particularly those of the hands, which can increase your risk of hypothermia. To avoid blood vessel constriction, podiatric physicians recommend avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, prolonged exposure to wetness and extreme cold, and tight-fitting footgear.

While we may be excited to get outside and enjoying our favorite sports, remember not to push yourself until you are exhausted. Rest at regular intervals to avoid fatigue-related injuries.

Other suggestions to help keep you healthy and enjoying your winter activities include dressing in layers to trap heat and prevent heat loss. You may add or remove layers of clothing as necessary according to exercise level and conditions.

You will also want to make sure footwear fits you properly. Footwear that is too tight or too loose will affect skin circulation and cause blisters.

As always, anyone with a pre-existing medical condition affecting the feet, such as diabetes, should see a doctor before taking part in winter sports.

Have fun, be safe and stay healthy!

Things to remember for safe winter sporting

• Exercising in cold weather places extra demands on the body.

• Protect against hypothermia and frostbite by wearing warm and waterproof clothing and footwear appropriate to your sport.

• Remember that you can still get sunburned in cold and cloudy weather, so cover up with clothing, apply sunscreen to exposed skin and wear close-fitting sunglasses.

• Thoroughly warm up and cool down to reduce the risk of muscle sprains and strains.

• Seek out local experts and follow their advice.