With winter just around the corner; don’t let cold be an excuse to stop exercising outdoors. Exercising in the cold can be just as comfortable as in the heat, as long as you prepare and use some common sense. Here are some tips to help keep you warm, comfortable, and safe while exercising in the cold.
Several thin layers are warmer than one heavy layer. Layers are also easier to add or remove and thus, better regulate your core temperature. The goal is to keep the body warm and minimize sweating and avoid shivering. Keeping your core warm will allow warmer blood to be diverted out to the extremities ensuring your hands and feet stay warmer.
Wet, damp clothing, whether from perspiration or precipitation, significantly increases body-heat loss. Use a fabric that will wick perspiration away from the skin. Polypropylene, wool or other fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin and retain insulating properties keep the body warm when wet. Consider putting off your workout if it’s raining or snowing unless you have waterproof gear. If you do get soaked, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature high enough.
Cover your Head
Your head should be covered while exercising in the cold, because heat loss from the head and neck may be as much as 50 percent of the total heat being lost by your body. To warm the air before you breathe it, use a scarf or mask. Do this especially if breathing cold air causes any pain or discomfort, or you are prone to upper respiratory problems. If possible, try breathing through the nose giving you the best chance of warming and moisturising the air before it enters the lungs.
Dehydration affects your body’s ability to regulate body heat and increases the risk of frostbite. Fluids, especially water, are as important in cold weather as in the heat. Avoid consuming excessive amounts of alcohol or beverages containing caffeine, because these items are dehydrating. Alcohol also gives the perception of being warm although the body is actually cold, making you more vulnerable to hypothermia or frostbite.
Check the weather
Wind and cold together make up wind chill. Extreme wind chill can make exercising outdoors unsafe even with warm clothing. Wind can penetrate through your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body. Any exposed skin is especially vulnerable to frostbite. If the temperature dips minus 18oC (below 0oF) or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor exercise instead.
If it’s dark when you exercise outside, wear reflective clothing. To stay steady on your feet, choose footwear with enough traction to prevent falls, especially if it’s icy or snowy. Ice cleats or walking poles are another great way to get more traction. Try creating a smaller route when running or cycling in the winter that’s closer to home; this lets you to get more clothing if you’re really cold, drop off gear if you become too warm and allows you to be close to home should you have an accident and fall. It is just as easy to get sunburns in the winter as it is in the summer, especially at high altitudes with snowy conditions. Wear sunscreen to protect the skin and sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes.
Know the signs of frost bite and hypothermia
Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears but can also occur on hands and feet. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. Immediately get out of the cold if you suspect frostbite. Slowly warm the affected area but don’t rub it since that can damage your skin. Seek emergency care if the numbness doesn’t go away.
Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature. Exercising in cold, wet weather increases the risk of hypothermia. Older adults and young children are also at greater risk. Hypothermia signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Seek emergency help right away for possible hypothermia.
Use common sense
Your own good sense and sound judgement is the best tool you can use when it comes to exercising in cold weather. Don’t do anything that is purposely dangerous, like going for a walk or run when it’s extremely icy, but keep in mind that winter and/or cold weather don’t have to be an excuse to stop exercising!
Paul Bradshaw – Kinesiologist at Sparkling Hill Resort