Don't let the cold weather turn you into a pale couch potato. Take to the trails, slopes, or ponds for healthful winter activity.
Prepare for the Cold
Your exercise routine doesn’t have to go into hibernation in the winter. "Winter sports are good forms of exercise for many people with diabetes," says JoAnn Manty, R.N., M.S.N., C.D.E., supervisor of diabetes education at Marquette (Michigan) General Health System. Manty stresses the importance of getting your doctor's approval before taking up a winter sport and checking your blood glucose before, during and after your workout.
Whether you're snowshoeing, skiing or skating, make sure you're ready for whatever winter weather throws your way. There aren't many places colder than the top of a mountain. It's no surprise, then, that extreme mountain climber Will Cross knows how to manage cold weather and his diabetes.
While wool is Cross's fabric of choice, "synthetic fabrics also keep out the wind and cold. Be sure to protect your hands and face," he says, Layers can help keep you warm and are easy to shed as you heat up. Wear hats, facemasks and gloves or mittens. And don't forget the sunscreen. "Sunscreen is an absolute necessity. It not only protects your skin, it can help to keep you hydrated. Dehydration is as much of a danger in cold weather as it is in hot weather," Cross says.
Know yourself: "Self-awareness is key when exercising in the cold," Cross says. "To prevent frostbite, wiggle your hands and toes inside your gloves and boots regularly."
Watch for Symptoms: Hypothermia and hypoglycemia are also risks.
For mild hypothermia, symptoms might include:
• Loss of coordination
For hypoglycemia, symptoms might include:
If you or your buddy thinks you're experiencing either, get help immediately. When in a skiing area, the National Ski Patrol can provide assistance. If you're planning to go to an area that's more secluded, carry a cell phone that you know will have service and let others know where you plan to go.
When heading out for winter sports, invite a buddy and pack a snack. A friend can help you if you fall or get too cold or tired. A snack can give you a boost if your blood glucose drops. "Glucose tablets, fruit juice, raisins and hard candy are good choices," diabetes educator JoAnn Manty says. Staying hydrated is paramount in the dry winter air. Tuck an insulated flask of hot tea, sugar-free cider or water in a waist pack or backpack.
Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing
"If you can walk, you can snowshoe," Manty says. With lightweight aluminum or composite snowshoes, just pick up your feet and put them down. Poles can help you move along and keep your balance. If you're a beginner, start on flat trails with well-packed snow and get some tips from an experienced snowshoer.
Cross-country skiing is another way to explore the backwoods. To move along the trail, alternately extend your arms and legs in long forward glides. A more advanced technique called "skating" employs a diagonal motion that increases speed. "Cross-country skiing can be quite strenuous and requires more balance than snowshoeing," Manty says. But since you can ski at your own pace, it can be a suitable sport for people of all ages.
Check winter resorts and ski shops for instruction. You'll need cross-country skis, poles and boots. Be sure the length of the skis and poles is appropriate for your height and weight. Choose boots that cover your ankles and be sure they fit properly.
Downhill skiing may seem like it's all about speed, but control and skill are far more important. Before you head for the slopes, set up a workout program to get your muscles in good shape and sign up for a few lessons if you're a skiing novice or a little rusty. Also, get expert help in choosing skis and poles to match your height and ability.
Pushing with your legs is the basic technique in ice-skating. Once you've mastered it, you can swing your arms from side to side for speed, balance and a little more exercise. Because you're wearing boots with narrow steel runners, though, skating may not be as easy as it looks. For lessons, call a local skating or hockey rink to find out the schedule for your experience level. Select skates that fit snugly but don't inhibit toe movement. And consider flexible kneepads to protect your knees from those inevitable falls.
Before any strenuous physical activity, be sure to talk to your doctor.