Staying Safe while Exercising Outdoors    

 

The recent spread of the omicron variant, many people are venturing outdoors for their workouts once again even amid the cold winter weather. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors than outdoors, and studies show that people are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 when they are closer than six feet apart from others for 15 minutes or more.  

If you do not feel comfortable heading to a public gym, exercising outside can be an easy and safe way to get back into or keep up with your fitness regimen, or even start a new one. 

Dr. Ginny Hendricks, a family medicine/sports medicine physician at OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center, offers tips and advice for staying safe when venturing outside for your workout. Outdoor workouts do not need to consist of running for miles or biking for hours. In fact, you can get in a good outdoor workout right in your front yard. 

“Trying to exercise in the middle of the day when it may be warmer and there may be a little less ice formation can be helpful,” Dr. Hendricks said. “And then shoveling snow is always a good option – you could shovel the sidewalks on your block or for elderly neighbors and that would also be a good substitution for your usual walk or run outside.”  

Whatever your workout, it is important to pay attention to the outside temperature as well as snow and ice. 

“In terms of weather when you’re exercising outside, wind chill is always a consideration. The weather app on your phone may say it is 35 degrees but if the wind chill says it’s below 15 degrees, for example – that’s a big difference. So be mindful more of the wind chill temperature and modify your exercise accordingly. If you are going to be outside, maybe think about going outside for a shorter duration and try to stay closer to the house so you have the option to go inside and warm up if you do get excessively cold,” Dr. Hendricks said. 

So, you checked the weather, there is no wind chill, and you are ready to go. What should you wear? 

“When you are exercising outside – whether it’s shoveling snow or going for a walk or a run – I think wearing layers that you can take off easily is always a good idea,” advises Dr. Hendricks. “You do want most of your skin covered just in terms of wind protection, so wearing a light pair of gloves, a neck gaiter, a hat to cover your ears, shirts or a scarf to cover your neck are all good ideas.”  

Dr. Hendricks also said that people want to be slightly chilly when they walk out the door. “If you’re feeling warm at the start of your exercise, then as your blood starts to pump and your body temperature rises you are going to get overheated,” she said. “You don’t want to get too sweaty while you are exercising outside since that can then cool and make you colder.” 

While you may prefer an outdoor workout, there are also ways to exercise at home. 

“I think indoor exercise is always an option. While not all of us have the financial resources to go out and buy the newest Peloton bike, there are things you can do in the house such as jumping jacks, squats, lunges, stepping on and off a chair. There are also things you can buy online like exercise bands that you can use in the house,” Dr. Hendricks said. 

Most importantly, Dr. Hendricks recommends aiming to have fun with your workout. Get creative while following safe practices, and be sure to check with your primary care physician before starting a new workout regimen. 

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