Exercising regularly is important for keeping your back muscles and joints healthy and keeping back pain at bay, and winter is a great time to enjoy outdoor sports like skiing, skating and snowboarding. But unless you take a few important steps to prepare yourself for cold-weather activity, you could find yourself facing a lot of discomfort and even increase your chances of injury. Here are a few important steps to take before heading into the great outdoors this winter:

Wear layers of clothing to trap your body’s natural warmth, and if clothes become damp, change into dry clothing as soon as possible.

Start out slowly, especially if it’s your first time out this season. Winter sports often use different muscles than other sports, so if you’re active, don’t assume you can jump in at full speed.

Be sure to warm up your muscles. Warming up is important before participating in any sport or strenuous activity, but when the ambient air is cold, warming up your muscles becomes even more critical. Stretch your legs with a few gentle lunges and stretch your hamstrings by bringing your knees up to your chest either while sitting or one at a time while standing (brace yourself so you don’t fall). Mild jogging in place or brisk walking for a few minutes can provide your whole body back with a good warm-up so you’re ready for fun.

Exercise during breaks. If you stop for a warm drink for instance, take a few moments to stretch and warm up your muscles before resuming your activity.

Don’t forget to cool down. Once you’re done for the day, rather than curling up for a rest, do a few stretches to work out any stiffness and help muscles recover. Cooling-down exercises can help reduce any stiffness you might feel the next morning.

Above all, if you’re experiencing back pain or you’re very tired, opt for rest instead. And have your back pain evaluated as soon as possible so you can enjoy those winter sports before spring weather returns.