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Winter recreational activities and chores can pose problems for the outdoor enthusiast whose body is not in condition. Winter sports like skating, skiing, and sledding can cause painful muscle strains or tears if you’re not in shape. Even shoveling snow the wrong way, clambering awkwardly over snow banks, slipping on sidewalks and wearing the wrong kinds of clothing can all pose the potential for strains and sprains.

Simply walking outside in freezing weather without layers of warm clothing can intensify older joint problems and cause a great deal of pain. As muscles and blood vessels contract to conserve the body’s heat, the blood supply to extremities is reduced. This lowers the functional capacity of many muscles, particularly among the physically unfit. If we know what areas of our bodies are most vulnerable, we can condition ourselves in the off-season to avoid injury and costly health care bills.

First, make sure to get plenty of rest and eat a healthy breakfast. Then, to help condition your body, do some at-home stretching exercises. Focus on lower-back muscles, hamstrings and calf muscles. To reduce injury, run down a mental check list to asses your mental awareness, equipment condition and your physical fitness level. Next, take off the chill that settles in on the way to your rink, pond or hilltop, and warm up just before you start a sport to get the blood flowing and to increase your heart rate.

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and its Council on Sports Injuries and Physical Fitness suggest the following tips to help you fight winter weather:

  • Skiing – do 10 to 15 squats. Stand with your legs a shoulders’ width apart, knees aligned over your feet. Slowly lower your buttocks as you bend your knees over your feet. Stand up straight again.
  • Skating – do several lunges. Take a moderately advanced step with one foot. Let your back knee come down to the floor while keeping your shoulders in position over your hips. Repeat the process with your other foot.
  • Sledding/Tobogganing – do knee-to-chest stretches to fight compression injuries caused by repetitive bouncing over the snow. Either sitting or lying on your back, pull your knees to your chest and hold for up to 30 seconds.

Don’t forget cool-down stretching for all of these sports – at the bottom of the sledding hill, for instance, before trudging back up, do some more knees-to-chest stretches, or repetitive squatting movements to restore flexibility.

Shoveling snow can also wreak havoc on the musculoskeletal system. The ACA suggests the following tips for exercise of the snow shoveling variety.

  • If you must shovel snow, be careful. Listen to weather forecasts so you can rise early and have time to shovel before work.
  • Layer clothing to keep your muscles warm and flexible.
  • Shoveling can strain “de-conditioned” muscles between your shoulders, in your upper back, lower back, buttocks and legs. So, do some warm-up stretching before you grab that shovel.