Cold-weather sports can pose health risks

A recent trend in sports has been a return to outdoor winter events. Outdoor hockey games held in stadiums have drawn large crowds. The roof collapse of the Minnesota Vikings home field and relocation to a much colder venue added an additional element to the game.

This shift to more athletic events being held in inclement weather, especially sub-freezing temperatures, poses a danger for both athletes and patrons. During vigorous exercise, energy is expended both by the activity and the need to keep muscles warm.

The two most common forms of injury from exposure to cold include frostbite and hypothermia. Shivering is the first sign of impending cold injury. It consists of involuntary muscle contractions as a means for the body to generate heat. When shivering begins, an effort to get to a warmer environment should be the next step. Alcoholic beverages should be avoided.

Frostbite is the freezing of superficial tissues. It typically appears on fingers, toes and facial structures. Symptoms include pain, tingling, and pale skin that will often blister. The most effective treatment is gradual warming, being careful to avoid friction that can result in permanent tearing of damaged tissues.

Hypothermia is the most severe form of cold injury. It is the result of the core body temperature falling below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The most severe impact involves neurologic and cardiac function. Patients become confused and sleepy with slurred speech. The clinical presentation resembles alcohol intoxication. Changes in cardiac rhythm can lead to sudden death.

The best treatment for cold injury is avoiding continued exposure. Appropriate attire should include thermal garments that retain heat. Dressing in layers is important. Special attention should be given to the extremities.

Exercising in cold weather does burn more calories and an outdoor workout should be modified accordingly.

Fencing exercises the body and mind

For many people, the start of a new year is an invitation to take on new challenges. This may include dieting, quitting smoking or beginning a fitness regimen. Those who have been involved in a workout program are often looking for some new element. Fencing is a worthwhile consideration.

The origins of fencing can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Rome, yet it remains both a physical and mental challenge even today. Participation is not dependent on age, size or gender.

Fencing builds stamina, strength and balance. Each match involves a series of advances and retreats combined with the skillful use of a weapon called a foil.

The sport appears to emphasize upper body strength but it is the lower body and core muscles that are crucial for success. Most athletic activities are based on forward rather than lateral movement. Fencing is among the activities that requires sideways movements that help train the neuromuscular system to avoid potential lateral falling injuries.

Common fencing injuries include wrist and ankle sprains, bruising and strained muscles. Physical preparation includes both strength and aerobic training. Meticulous stretching of upper and lower extremity muscles as well as core muscles is imperative to avoid injury.

Fencing is a sport in which lessons are necessary for full enjoyment and safety. Aaron Hughes, Head Fencing Coach at St. Bernard High School and Eastern Connecticut State University, offers weekly lessons and training sessions at Fitness World in Norwich.

“Participants are surprised at the amount of stamina and concentration required for fencing,” said Hughes.

One recent Sunday, local radio talk show host Lee Elci and I joined a class hosted by Hughes. We both enjoyed the class and competitive dueling afterward.

Fencing is a sport that exercises both the body and mind at any age.