Many people try to avoid exercising in cold weather, but according to the American Heart Association, there is no reason to take a break from physical activity outdoors when the temperature drops. Preparation can go a long way when you exercise in frigid temperatures.
Dress For The Weather
The proper clothing is essential and the key to cold weather running is dressing in layers, which helps trap warm air near your body for the best possible insulation. What those layers are made of is important to maintain your body heat while exercising in the cold. In general, avoid cotton; it holds moisture and will eventually start to chill you.
Layering Suggestions For Winter Exercise
You can always remove layers as your body warms up, but adding layers while exercising might be a tad trickier. Remember, you will warm up as you get going, so you might feel a bit chilly when you first start out.
- Wicking inner layer: Material closest to the skin should keep you dry
- Insulating middle layer: Second/middle layer to keep warmth in while still keeping you dry.
- Wind and water-proof outer layer (shell): Protect from outside elements while allowing heat and moisture to escape to prevent overheating and chilling. A zippered jacket allows you to regulate your temperature. Zippered pockets will also serve to store gloves, tissues and lip balm.
- Tights/running pants: Your legs generate more heat so you don’t need as many layers on your lower body. Usually a good pair of wicking tights or running pants is sufficient. When it’s below 10 degrees (or strong winds) consider layering track pants over your tights.
- Socks: Always avoid cotton socks when running in any weather since they do not wick away moisture. In very cold weather, consider knee highs
- Hat/gloves: About 40% of your body heat is lost through your head and as much as 30% of your body heat escapes through your hands and feet. Wearing a hat and gloves will prevent heat loss for your body to distribute elsewhere. You can always tuck them into your pants if you feel like you start to overheat.
Watch For Frostbite
On really cold days, make sure you monitor your fingers, toes, ears and nose. They may feel numb at first, but they should warm up a few minutes into your exercise. If you notice a patch of hard, pale, cold skin, you may have frostbite.
This only affects the surface of the skin. Early symptoms are pain and itching. The skin then develops white or yellow patches and may become numb. Due to its surface-level impact, it does not usually cause permanent damage. However, an area of skin with first-degree frostbite may lose sensitivity to heat and cold for a short period.
This may cause the skin to freeze and harden but does not affect the deep tissues. After 2 days, purple blisters may develop in areas that froze. These blisters may turn black and become hard, taking 3–4 weeks to heal. A person with second-degree frostbite who has nerve damage might experience numbness, pain, or total loss of sensation in the area. The decreased sense of heat and cold may be permanent.
Third- and fourth-degree frostbite
In people with the most severe presentations of frostbite, the damage penetrates deeper, causing deep tissue injury.
Muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and tendons freeze. The skin feels smooth and waxy. Some people may lose the use of an extremity, for example, a foot or a hand. For some people, this is permanent.
If you begin to experience the symptoms above, get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area.
- Remove wet clothing.
- Re-warm skin by placing it in warm water.
- Do not rub skin.
- Do not place affected area in cold water.
If numbness continues, seek emergency care.
Watch Wind Chills And Air Temperature
If the wind is strong, it penetrates your clothes and removes the insulating layer of warm air around you. Your movement also creates wind chill because it increases air movement past your body. If the temperature is below zero or the wind chill is below -20, stay inside.
Don’t Over-Exercise In The Cold
Exercising in cold temperatures is a stress on your body. So, when you are exercising, it is easy for an average work out to become overly taxing when you are in the cold.
Here are some activities that you can try in cold weather.
- Brisk walking or hiking
- Jogging or running
- Raking leaves
- Shoveling snow
- Ice skating
- Cross-country skiing
Hydration is obvious during hot summer months, but it is needed in cold temperatures, too. When you see your breath, that is moisture leaving your body. Be sure to drink plenty of water when the air outside is cold and dry. Just because you may not be thirsty, don’t forget to drink water!
Warm Up And Stretching
When exercising in warm weather, or even indoors, you may not even think twice about stretching first, but in cold weather, it is important to start with a warm up prior to stretching because your muscles tend to tighten, which makes them more prone to injury.
A light activity like walking or jogging will help get your blood flowing throughout your body and will help warm and loosen your muscles.
Dynamic stretching is key to your winter workouts. The repetitive moves like arm circles and leg raises help keep your blood flowing from your warm up, while loosening your muscles.
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