Staying active on the frozen tundra

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Downtown in winter HCMCAs most of my radio listeners know, I’m a runner.  Like many of you, I find a few miles on the paths of Minneapolis to be relaxing, rejuvenating and probably pretty good for me.  But here in Minnesota, the weather presents some challenges.

So how do you stay active in winter, whether running, walking, or just getting to your car?  Here’s what we’re up against – check out the view from my office on this balmy February day.  HCMC is on the left, the Star Wars sandcrawler behemoth invading downtown from the right is USBank Stadium, still under construction.  Not your ideal running conditions, eh?

As a doctor, I know there are risks to everything, including being active outside.  Your asthma may get worse or you may fall and break your wrist – there are real risks and of course, you should tailor your exercise regimen to your own situation – but in general being active beats the alternative!  So we soldier on – off for a run.

Here’s my route on the street by my house:

Mpls street winterPretty, don’t you think?

Of course you could exercise inside – there is always the gym and the dreaded treadmill.  To be sure, that’s better than sitting on the couch.  But to me, a mile on the treadmill feels like an eternity, and it’s a bit soul-sucking to be lined up with a bazillion other people, all plugged into their headphones, running like hamsters.  Much better to be outside, I think.

For those of you living in southern California, you can get all smug now.  For those of us in God’s country (aka Minnesota), let’s talk about surviving a winter run (or walk).  Basically there are 2 concerns, both of which sadly happen with some regularly:  a) falling on your tuckus, and b) freezing various body bits.

Slip slidin’ away
Slipping icon“It was a good run, I only fell one time”

 

I have a colleague who runs home from work most days, from downtown Minneapolis to her home a few miles away.  Earlier this week we got a few inches of snow (~10″) in a lovely Minnesota snowstorm and she reported the next day that she considered only landing on the icy sidewalk once to be a victory of sorts.  Now that’s dedication.  I wonder if she looked like this woman (be sure to watch it to the end for a chuckle):

But seriously, there are ways to maximize your chances of staying upright in the snow and ice.

  • First, channel your inner penguin.  I read somewhere that Icelanders or Norwegians or some such hardy folk have evolved a penguin-oid walking style, where you alter your center of gravity.  After all, you don’t see penguins slipping on the ice.  To wit:walk on ice tips graphic

 

Other tips:

  • Choose fresh snow over packed down ice and snow.
  • Slow the heck down.  You’re not going to break any land-speed records here.
  • If you have trail shoes, wear them.
  • Focus on each step – be mindful of each footfall.  This isn’t the time to daydream and gaze off into the distance.

Staying warm in the cold

Here’s beautiful downtown Minneapolis with the WCCO radio studio on the right (where I spend every Sunday morning broadcasting Healthy Matters).  Thankful for the skyway system!

Downtown Mpls winter

Two issues about staying warm when exercising outside:  keeping your core body warm and avoiding frostbite.  One mistake is to wear too much clothing, since when you first start out you are uncomfortably cold.  Then you start running, you start sweating, and you actually feel too warm.  Rule of thumb:  dress as if the temperature were 20 degrees warmer.  So if it is 10 degrees outside, dress as if it were 30 degrees  (or dress for 20 degrees if windy to account for wind chill).

Then there’s frostbite.  Perhaps I’ll cover that more in a later post, but suffice it to say that body parts at the edges (fingers, toes, ears, nose) that are exposed to the wind and cold can get frozen in a hurry.  Cover them up!

Summary of tips for cold weather running:

  • Dress in layers.  The layer closest to your skin should ideally be of a wicking, high-tech fabric.
  • Dress as if the temperature is 20 degrees warmer than it actually is (10 degrees warmer if there is a wind chill factor).  Don’t want to sweat too much.
  • Cover your fingers, toes, ears and nose.
  • Wear running shoes with some traction.
  • If possible, wear shoes with the least amount of breathable mesh.  Mesh is great for summer, for winter, not so much.
  • Quickly change into dry clothes after exercise.

For more info, this is a helpful article.

And keep repeating: I love winter I love winter I love winter.  Then book your vacation to Florida.

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