So you have committed yourself to a fitness program to continue your weight loss and have been following it steadily for the past couple of months. You have discovered a passion for running and want to keep your fitness levels up during the cold winter months that are now upon us. It is important to know how cold weather will affect our bodies from an exercise standpoint and also, how to stay safe while exercising outside in the winter. Below are some tips and suggestions that will allow you to stay outside for your morning runs and walks.
Our bodies in the cold
In an ideal exercise environment, our bodies heat up from physical activity and sweat will cool us off. Cold weather is different. We are more susceptible to suffering cold related injuries than we are to the overheating dangers in other climates. Since the air we are inhaling is much colder than the temperature of our bodies, it can also become very hard to breathe. With cold air, our body goes through a process to warm all oxygen to an acceptable temperature before it can be used by our muscles and organs. Also, the body will limit blood flow to the fingers and toes in order to keep the muscles and organs warm. If precautions are not taken, heat is lost very rapidly, especially from the head.
Dress appropriately (30-40% heat loss from head)
Since we are exercising in the cold, we need to dress appropriately. Important areas to cover from the cold are the hands, feet, ears, head and neck. Also protect your eyes and face if it is really cold outside. Wear socks that will keep you warm or even double up on pairs. Any layers of clothing that you wear should not be movement restricting, like a large winter coat or big fluffy pants. Layer up if you need to but make sure that you are wearing exercise friendly clothing. Shop for clothes with listed features listed like “breathable” or “dry-fit”. Make sure to dress warm, but remember that your body is still creating heat by exercising. If you overdress, or fail to wear breathable clothing during intense exercise, then you are at risk for overheating, even in the cold.
Before going outside to run or jog, it is best to warm up inside. This means doing some light calisthenics (jumping jacks, walking/jogging in place or going up and down stairs) for 5-10 minutes to turn on your body’s natural heating system. If you are already warmed up when going outside, then it is a much easier transition to exercise in the cold.
Exercising in the snow or on ice
Be very careful in the winter extremes of snowiness and ice. Try to find a trail or a spot that has been plowed and salted. If you choose to walk/jog in snow, then go through special efforts to protect the legs and feet. This may mean wearing special boots to prevent frostbite. Also, look out for black ice as this will easy blend in with the sidewalks and roads and then sneak up on you. The last thing that anyone wants is an injury.
If it is too much, then stay inside
If the snow, ice and cold temperatures become too overwhelming, then stay inside. There are endless pieces of cardio equipment in the gym for days that you can’t go outside. You can even get creative and do some things in your house. Maybe try some interval training on the treadmill to keep it interesting.
Final precautions to take
Drink plenty of water. Many people make the mistake of not drinking enough fluids while working out in the winter. Your body needs to stay hydrated just like any other scenario. Also, you may need to use lip balm and/or lotions on any skin exposed to the wind in order to prevent skin irritations from the cold and dry air. It is possible to continue an exercise routine outdoors in the winter as long as the proper precautions are taken.