Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tips for Exercising in Cold Weather

Even as the temperature dips farther down on the East Coast, I have seen a handful ardent joggers sticking to their daily fitness routines.  I admire their drive, determination and no fear of the elements.  But, cold weather can discourage even the most motivated exercisers. And, if you're not incredibly motivated and fond of frigid temperatures, it's easy to pack away your workout gear along with your warm-weather clothing.

You don't have to let cold weather spell the end of your exercise. With these tips from the Mayo Clinic for exercising during cold weather, you can stay fit, motivated and warm when the weather turns chilly.

Dress in layers.  One of the biggest mistakes you can make while exercising in cold weather is to dress too warmly. Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like it's much warmer than it really is. Yet, once your sweat starts to dry, you can get chilled.

Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. First, put on a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. A heavy down jacket or vest may cause you to overheat if you're exercising hard. If you're lean, you may need more insulation than someone who is heavier. If it's very cold, consider wearing a face mask or scarf to warm the air before it enters your lungs.

Wear the appropriate gear.  In winter, it is still quite dark in the morning and the late afternoon.  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. Wear a helmet while skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. Consider using chemical heat packs to warm up your hands or feet.

Head into the wind.  If possible, do the second half of your workout with the wind at your back. This way, you're less likely to get chilled, especially if you've worked up a sweat. This may take some planning of your exercise route before you head out the door.

Drink fluids.  You need to stay well hydrated when exercising in cold weather just as you do when exercising in warm weather. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout, even if you're not really thirsty.

Wear sunscreen.  It's as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer — even more so if you're exercising in the snow or at high altitudes. Wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at least 30. Use a lip balm that contains sunscreen and protect your eyes from snow and ice glare with dark glasses or goggles.

Pay attention to the wind chill.  Wind chill extremes - like what we are currently experiencing - can make exercising outdoors unsafe even if you dress warmly. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body, and any exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite. If the temperature dips well below 0 F (-17.8 C) or the wind chill is extreme, consider choosing an indoor activity or take extra precautions if you choose to exercise outdoors anyway.

Know when to come inside.  Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears, but it also can occur on hands and feet. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. If you suspect frostbite, get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area — but don't rub it since that can damage your skin. If numbness continues, seek emergency care.

Exercising in the wintery, fresh air can be fun, but also dangerous in certain conditions.  Be careful, but have fun!

Visit www.FitnessForHealth.org to learn about Fitness for Health's winter fitness programs for adults and children.

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