couple running
We know winter is coming. Dr. Paul Oh, Medical Director of UHN’s Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program,​ discusses how to adjust our exercise for it, as well as a host of tips on spot training and what to do when you have a cold to pre-workout eating and how to handle heat and humidity. (Photo: ​Maria Eklind, ​Flickr)

Can I exercise with a light cold? How can I prepare safely for high-intensity exercise? What's a good pre-workout snack?

Exercise is an important activity that helps maintain physical and mental health. With a plethora of exercise and nutrition options, people may wonder what the best way is to get the most out of their exercise.

UHN News spoke to Dr. Paul Oh, Medical Director of UHN’s Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, on exercise best practices and how to maximize efficiency and reduce risk.​

UHN News: Can I exercise with a common cold?

Dr. Oh: It really depends on how you're feeling at that point in time. If you have a fever, cough or congestion, it's probably not the best time to exercise. In fact, your body is telling you to rest, hydrate, take it easy for a few days, and get back into it gradually.

If your symptoms are milder, for example a runny nose, then it's fine to exercise. Pay attention to good infection control and be safe.

UN: What's a safe temperature range to exercise within?

Dr: This depends on what the individual is used to, but we do recommend a safe zone for exercise. Once the temperature or wind chill goes below -10 degrees Celsius, we recommend going indoors.Equally, if the temperature and humidity are very high, such as the weather we had this past summer, the conditions may not be safe for exercise. It's difficult to efficiently lose enough heat without the body going into some distress.

For recommendations on when and how to exercise in varying weather conditions, UHN's Cardiac College offers extensive information on exercising in cold weather and hot weather conditions.


Nutrition tips for exercise with Maria Ricupero, Clinical Dietitian, Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, Toronto Rehab

On timing: The closer you are to exercising, the less fat and fibre you want to take in. You also want to make sure that the amount you eat is small. Eating a large meal that is high in fat and fibre can make a workout session very uncomfortable as these foods take longer to digest. If you need some energy before you exercise, include a carbohydrate snack such as fruit, hummus and crackers or yogurt – at least 30 minutes prior to working out.

On protein supplements: You can get all the nutrition you need from food without having to turn to specialty products that can often include high amounts of sugar with other additives.  The amount of protein one needs depends on body weight (one gram per kg of body weight). Aim to include a source of protein at each meal. Sources of protein include: animal foods (meat, poultry, dairy, eggs), fish, nut butters (peanut or almond butter), other nuts and seeds, legumes, tofu, etc.

An overall diet fit for exercise: Make sure the overall diet is balanced and includes at least three out of four food groups (fruit & vegetables, whole grains, dairy & alternatives and meat & alternatives) at main meals.  Pre-exercise snacks can be valuable, but an overall balanced diet is the best way to support the body for an exercise routine.

couple running
Cardiac College is composed of two UHN programs: Toronto Rehab and Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. The College’s patient education website includes this Heat Safety Index to help viewers determine when outdoor exercise is safe. (Photo: Cardiac College, UHN)

UN: Does exercise have to change with age?

Dr.:Not necessarily. The basic guidance and principles are the same:150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. That includes being active throughout the day as well as planned exercise. This is the case if you're 20 years old or 80 plus.  Some say they can't achieve 30 minutes of exercise at once, so if that's the case, just break it up. It accumulates in bouts of 10 minutes reasonably well.

UN: How effective is walking alone?

Dr.:Walking is a tremendously effective form of activity that improves health, reduces future heart disease, and it's an activity that most of us can do. Any activity that uses large muscle groups to get the heart rate up a little works well, so this includes walking, cycling and swimming.

For differently-abled individuals, upper body exercise and use of resistance bands are also very effective. 

UN: What are the greatest benefits of exercise?

Dr.:The benefits of exercise literally go from head to toe.

Exercise lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and improves sugar levels. It also improves mood and memory. People with lung conditions who exercise reduce future complications. Women developing bone mass loss or osteoporosis who exercise keep bone strength up. People recovering from or living with systemic conditions who exercise oftenexperience improved quality of life and daily functioning.

UN: What are the risks associated with exercise?

Dr.:Fortunately it's very, very small, especially if exercise is done in a careful and considered way.

You hear occasionally about stress brought on by exercise through, for instance, heart attacks that happen during marathons. That is a terrible and tragic thing, but the absolute risk of it is so low compared to what happens in the general population. When you exercise, there are risks that go up during the workout, but for the other hours of the day, your risk is substantially lower than if you hadn't exercised.

High-intensity exercise can be extremely effective, but if you're not using proper technique and form, or you haven't trained well for it, there may be a risk of injury or over exertion. Exercising in slow and steady progression will help our bodies adapt appropriately to these kinds of high-intensity activities.

UN: How effective is spot training?

Dr.: Exercising one muscle group without everything else is an incomplete workout. I understand wanting to strengthen particular areas,but it's very important that we aim for overall conditioning.

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