Don’t Let the Weather Affect Your Health

During the wintertime, it’s easy to make excuses to avoid exercise.

But the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, and it doesn’t make exceptions for weather.

“I especially encourage patients with heart disease – mostly we’re talking about people with coronary artery disease, or clogged arteries – to stay active on a regular basis,” says Dr. Jeffrey Smith, electrophysiologist at Mercyhealth.

Exercising on a regular basis is key, since it builds up your heart’s endurance. Especially if you have heart disease, it’s important to exercise four to five days a week, Smith says.

It might be a good idea to hire someone to shovel your driveway when heavy snow falls, especially if you’ve been avoiding exercise for a while, Smith adds. But, if you end up doing the work yourself, make sure to take it slow and easy.

“What’s risky is when a person who’s not exercising regularly then goes out in the cold and tries to shovel the driveway,” Smith says. “The combination of that exertion and the cold air can really be a strain on the heart. Don’t go and try to make up for all your exercise in one hour that you haven’t done for the last month.”

Exercise can simply be going for a walk. During the winter, it’s a great idea to find a place to walk indoors.

Swimming is another great way to fulfill aerobic exercise goals. If you’re at home, walking on a treadmill or pedaling on a stationary bicycle – which is gentler on the knees – can also be effective.

But if the sidewalks and roads aren’t icy, Smith recommends leaving your house. Staying put could decrease your motivation.

“Avoid frostbite and stuff like that, but if you’re going to your car and driving somewhere and coming back, it won’t be a huge shock to your system,” Smith says. “It’s when you’re going outside and doing something vigorous that you’re not used to – that’s when it’s a problem. The key is to have the right mental attitude.” ❚

Mercyhealth operates in Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Algonquin, Barrington and Harvard, in addition to a hospital in east Rockford.