During the cold winter months, the body has a different way of regulating. For example, it retains fat. The body knows fat is an insulator and holds onto it and won’t release it so willingly. Your body has to work hard to keep your core temperature up, so fat becomes its perfect solution. Therefore, don’t worry about losing fat in the winter. If you stay active until spring, it will simply melt away. Another example about the body and cold regulation is veins, arteries, and bronchiole tubes constrict to keep warm. So, no matter how hard you exercise, the body will only comply based on survival and necessity. It is one reason exercising in the cold and getting results is more complicated.
However, if you are like me, and like the challenge, and want to train outdoors in the winter, you must prepare and be aware of some things. Here are some tips to help you when exercising outdoors in the cold.
Check the Weather Conditions
Check the weather conditions and the wind chill. Understand the conditions where you are about to go. I started running late afternoon a few times, and the temps dropped quickly due to the sun setting. So, understand the conditions and the time to protect yourself.
The risk of frostbite is less when the temperature is above about 5 degrees F. The risk increases dramatically when there is wind. It only takes about 20 minutes or less for frostbite to happen.
Frostbite happens mostly to your cheeks, nose, ears, hands, and feet. Signs of frostbite are loss of feeling, numbness, or a stinging feeling in the affected area. If you suspect that you may have frostbite, slowly, not quickly or drastically, warm the area. Avoid rubbing frostbite because it will make it worse and can permanently damage your skin.
Hypothermia is when the body cannot maintain core temperature after being exposed to cold temperatures. This is the point where your body starts to lose heat faster than it can keep.
Signs of Hypothermia are:
- Intense, uncontrollable shivering
- Loss of motor control and coordination
Hypothermia is a sign that the body has lost control and needs warmth immediately.
Protect Your Skin
With the cold comes dryness. Before heading out and after, apply skin cream moisturizer and use lip balm. This will help protect against wind and cold, cracking and drying out your lips and skin.
Protect Your Extremities
The body shunts blood from the extremities like the fingers, hands, feet, toes, and your face instantly in cold temps. The body keeps the blood at the core, and this is how frostbite can occur on your extremities. Wear wind-resistant insulated gloves, wool socks, and a face mask to protect the head and cheeks. You can also use shoe covers over your shoes to help keep your feet warm and block the wind.
Use Dry Warm Clothes
Avoid using cotton. Cotton will retain water and sweat. Invest and use synthetic dry wear made of nylon or polyester. They are made to dry fast. When cotton gets wet, it sags on and will chafe your skin as you are exercising. Being wet is the quickest way to lose body heat, lower your core temperature, make you cold, and causing your muscles to tighten up. The less wet, the less the body feels cold, and the better your muscles will perform.
Put your synthetics on first. The synthetic will absorb sweat and stay dry to maintain warmth. Secondly, use a real fleece sweater. You know it is real fleece if it becomes dry within 30 minutes. Fleece is excellent to keep you dry and warm. If there is wind or rain, put your windbreaker on last.
Understand your exercise intensity and how much to wear. Walkers will probably be colder than runners. More exertion, fewer clothes, which makes the next tip very important.
Do a Warm-up First
Before entering the cold, warm-up. Your warmup will determine how many clothes you need to wear. Most people overdress, and, once on the road, they may notice the jacket was too much. Increase blood flow and body temperature first, then go outside. Take a quick practice run to test the cold to turn back to put on more or take off clothes. Warming up will also decrease your chances of strain and injury. The colder the temps, the faster your body wants to constrict. Perform dynamic, active warmups, like jump rope, running in place, or jumping jacks not stretches. Stretching is not a great warm-up for the cold.
In the cold, inhalation is more difficult, and when it is really cold it burns and can hurt to breathe. Inhaling through your nose warms and humidifies the air. Warmer air entering the lungs means the bronchial tubes can stay dilated and not constricted, resulting in better oxygen exchange.
Breathing through your mouth does not warm the air. It will cause the lungs to constrict. A large amount of cold air that enters the lungs through the mouth cannot be warmed as fast as the smaller amounts of air inhaled through the nose. This will make you sick with a cough, cold, or flu. Wrapping a scarf around your mouth and neck can help keep the air warm if you inhale from the mouth into the lungs.
When exercising in the cold, you don’t feel as thirsty like you do when it is warm outside. However, you are still sweating and still losing fluids. Make sure you stay hydrated even though you may not feel thirsty.
Cold and Windy
Your back is more protected than your front. Run into the wind first because you will be dry and warm, and your body will be better prepared to handle it. On your return, the wind will be at your back. It is at this time. You will be sweaty and colder. Therefore, the wind should be at your back rather than your front.
Running in Snow
Wear bright colors and use light flashers so people can see you. If you happen to go down on the ground with a problem, someone can spot you easily. On a different note, if there is snow, shovel it! It is the best workout.
Use these tips to stay safe and enjoy your exercise. Don’t only monitor the conditions outside. Monitor how your body feels.