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Winter Workouts: Prepare Before Sporting Skis, Skates

You've packed away your swimsuit and flip-flops and pulled out your fleece sweaters and long underwear. Another delightful season of sunshine, swimming, long walks on the beach, and bike rides is behind us. But don't fret - just because summer is over and winter is on the way doesn't mean you have to crawl into bed and hibernate like a bear. Our cold and snowy New England winters give us the opportunity to strap on some skis, a snowboard, snowshoes, or ice skates, get outdoors and stay active.

"People here in New England are quite experienced with the cold," says Dr. Arun Ramappa, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports injuries at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "The key is to condition your body for winter activities so you can enjoy the season without getting hurt."

Start With Your Heart

If you've been lying on a beach blanket all summer, you'll want to begin training for your winter workouts by getting your heart and lungs used to working a little bit harder.

"We see injuries when people decide they're going to go from zero to 100 percent so I recommend starting with some baseline aerobic conditioning," notes BIDMC Primary Sports Care Medicine and Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Bridget Quinn. "Climb stairs, go running, get on a stationary bike - do whatever you like to do. And do it for at least 30 minutes a day."

If you've ever felt the burn in your legs after a day on the slopes or an afternoon of ice skating, you know that winter sports involve a lot of quad strength. Dr. Quinn recommends squats and lunges to get your legs ready for the workout.

"But don't just hyper focus on your thighs. In order for you to optimize your winter training, you should focus on whole body conditioning as well as things like lunges and squats," she advises.

Dr. Quinn, who also heads the Women's Orthopaedic Center at BIDMC, says women should put some emphasis on the back of their legs as well as the front to strengthen naturally weak hamstrings, while most men lack flexibility and should focus on stretching.

Click here for Dr. Quinn's winter training exercises »

Give Your Skin A Little Extra Love

We may be seeing less of the sun as the days grow shorter, but that doesn't mean you should put away the sunscreen any time soon.

"The sun is still strong enough all winter to cause burning and damage to the skin, especially at high altitudes," according to BIDMC Dermatologist Dr. Rachel Reynolds.

Sunburns and increased chronic sun exposure can put you at risk for melanoma.

"Reflection of UV rays off of snow can nearly double UV strength," notes Dr. Caroline Kim, Director of the Pigmented Lesion Clinic at BIDMC.

Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 protection on all sun-exposed areas and re-apply every two hours. Be sure to protect your lips with SPF lip balm, even if it's cloudy out.

"UV rays penetrate clouds and people often forget to apply sun protection on these days," notes Dr. Kim. "Even if you're wearing goggles, you'll likely take them off periodically, so apply sunscreen to your entire face and any sun-exposed areas before skiing."

Speaking of goggles, Dr. Kim recommends using ski goggles with the maximum amount of UV protection to shield your eyes from the sun's harmful rays.

When your day outdoors is done, skip the hot shower or hot tub. Winter's dry, cold air can deplete your skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry, cracked and itchy, and hot water doesn't help. Dr. Reynolds recommends avoiding hot tubs, chlorinated pools and hot showers - keep the shower temperature lukewarm instead. Then apply a moisturizing cream to the skin immediately after bathing.

"We call it 'soak and seal.' Moisturizing creams are more effective than lotions and are preferable to managing dry skin in the winter," suggests Reynolds.

Fuel Your Workout, Wet Your Whistle

Nutrition plays a critical role in any athletic workout, but even more so in the winter. Chronic dehydration can be a problem because we don't feel as thirsty as we do when it's hot out and as a result can forget to drink enough water. And with extra layers of clothing on, some people choose to drink less so they don't have to make as many trips to the bathroom. But that's not doing yourself any favors.

"Wintertime hydration is very important," stresses Mercy Devadoss, RD, Clinical Dietician at BIDMC-affiliated Milton Hospital, located just a few miles from the Blue Hills Ski Area. "You should drink enough water to equal half of your body weight - in ounces. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking at least 75 ounces of fluid - even more if your winter workout is high intensity."

Fuel your winter workouts with a balanced diet of carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats.

"Protein is an important nutrient with athletes because of its role in building and maintaining muscles, while carbohydrate is the master fuel," notes Devadoss. "It gets stored in the muscle and liver, so bulking up on carb-rich foods increases endurance performance and keeps you from feeling hungry before and during exercise."

She recommends whole wheat pasta, bananas, apples, brown rice and carbohydrate-rich sports drinks as good pre-workout carbs. To get the most benefit from the carbohydrates, eat your meal three to four hours before you begin your winter activity to give your body time to digest and store the carbs.

Let There Be Light

Shorter winter days result in less sunlight, something that not only can affect your psychological mood, but can also deplete your supply of Vitamin D. During the summer, the body can convert energy from the sun into plenty of vitamin D with just 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to the sun. But from October until the end of March, the angle of the sun is such that in much of North America, no vitamin D is available from that source.

"Lack of vitamin D has been implicated in bone injury and soft tissue injury," says Dr. Quinn. "I typically recommend taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter months, particularly if you're going to be active and outside."

Combat the energy-zapping winter blues by staying physically active. If cold weather sports aren't your thing, be sure to get to the gym or walk the stairs in your office building or home. Even a little exercise can help increase your levels of energy-boosting serotonin.

And if you do choose to take advantage of the great outdoors during the winter months, use common sense to stay safe. Protect against hypothermia by wearing weather-appropriate clothing, use a helmet when skiing or snowboarding, and don't ever do winter activities alone.

"Most importantly, when it's brutally cold, don't stay out all day," advises Dr. Ramappa. "Even hardy New Englanders have limits."

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2011

Contact Information

Sports Medicine & Shoulder Surgery
Carl J. Shapiro Department of Orthopaedics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Carl J. Shapiro Clinical Center, 2nd Floor
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-66-SPORT (667-7678)