Winter is almost upon us. Dr. Dawn Mackey shares tips on how to keep fit at a time when staying warm inside and having wine, cheese, and chocolates are much more appealing.
Q: Christmas baking has already started. If I want to partake, should I remember that more calories in means I need to get more calories ‘out’ through exercise?
A: You’ve got it! To avoid gaining extra pounds over the holiday season, energy balance is key. Keep in mind that it usually takes less time and effort to take ‘in’ an extra 100 or 200 calories than it does to burn ‘off’ the same number of calories through physical activity, so you might want to think twice before you indulge.
Q: How many minutes of physical activity should I be getting every day, year-round? Does walking count?
A: To achieve health benefits, Canada’s national physical activity guidelines1 recommend that adults (18-64 years) and older adults (65 years and older) get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. One way to achieve 150 minutes of activity each week is to do 20-30 minutes of activity each day. If the guideline levels of physical activity seems unrealistic for you, remember that some activity is better than none, so start by adding small amounts of physical activity to your day (e.g. take a 10-minute walk during your lunch break, or take the stairs instead of the elevator), and then gradually increase how much, how often, and how hard you are active over time.
Our guidelines also state that it is beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least two days per week. And older adults with poor mobility should also do activities to enhance balance and prevent falls.
Absolutely, walking counts! Brisk walking is a moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Since it is an accessible and inexpensive activity, walking is one of the most popular types of physical activity for Canadians.
Q: What forms of activity would you recommend for staying fit this winter?
A: During the winter, when the weather outside can be intimidating, you might start to look for indoor opportunities to be active. Community centres offer a wide variety of classes and opportunities to be active, which are often less expensive than regular gym memberships. To manage holiday stress, you might enjoy a yoga or meditation class, which you could likely find at your local community centre. You might also consider being active in your own home with a workout DVD or fitness-oriented video game. Or, try wearing a pedometer to count the steps you normally take in a day and then challenge yourself to take more steps. Most importantly, focus on doing physical activities that you enjoy, and consider doing them with a friend - the social aspects of physical activity motivate many of us to stick with it.
Q: It’s a convenient excuse to say that it’s too cold and wet outside run, walk, or bike. How should I dress if I decide to brave the elements and get out there?
A: Yes, weather can be a barrier to getting outside for physical activity. If you do brave the elements, I recommend that you dress in layers – you can remove a layer as soon as you start to sweat and then put it back on if you start to feel cold. A good first layer is something light and made of a synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which will draw sweat away from your body. Try to avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Add a second layer or fleece or wool for insulation and warmth, and then add a waterproof, breathable outer layer.
Don’t forget to protect your head, ears, and hands, and if it is dark when you are out, wear reflective clothing to stay safe. Finally, wear footwear with enough traction to prevent falls when it's icy or snowy.
Q: Should I be doing more cardio or weight training as I get older?
A: Both cardio and weight training are important. Cardio helps to maintain the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Weight training helps to preserve and build muscle strength and mass. Recent research has shown that cardio and weight training each independently help to maintain and enhance cognitive functions in older adults, so they are beneficial for your brain too!
Q: How important is a stretching and when should I do it – before, during, or after exercise?
A: Stretching will help you to maintain and enhance your flexibility. Staying flexible as you age helps you to move better and with less discomfort. Stretching can also help alleviate daily aches and pains. Dynamic stretching, where you move a muscle group through a range of motion (e.g., walking lunges, high steps), help you to warm up before exercise. Static stretching, where you hold a stretch for 15-30 seconds, is best done after exercise, when your muscles are warm. When you stretch, you should feel a stretch but not pain.