Winter is upon us and as the mercury drops, most people dread the idea of being outside in freezing temperatures at all, let alone exercising in them. While working out in the cold can be invigorating, and according to some studies may even help you burn more calories, it can also be dangerous. So before you venture out into the arctic chill, here are a few tips to help you get prepared.
Check Weather Forecast
Even before you get ready to set foot outside, make sure to check the forecast. Don't forget to look at both the air temperature and the wind chill. While it's generally safe to exercise in the cold, the dangers dramatically increase when the combined temperature and wind chill fall to -20ºF.
Once you know what to expect temperature-wise, you can then dress appropriately. It's recommended that you wear three layers. The first layer on the skin should be a lightweight synthetic or polyester. The middle layer should be polyester or wool and the outer layer should be lightweight, water-repellant and wind-resistant. Since the days get darker quicker in winter, it's also a good idea if this outer layer is light in color and even better if it has reflective areas. Make sure to also protect your hands and ears with gloves and a hat and your feet with the right footwear for the conditions. If its going to be icy or snow-covered where you're going, your footwear should have good traction and be waterproof.
Plan Your Route
If you're going for a run, walk, hike or any activity where you'll be traveling a distance away from your home, be sure to plan your route in advance. The route should be well maintained, cleared of snow (unless you plan on going snowshoeing) and well lit. It's a good idea to run multiple short loops close to home than one long loop that takes you out far, where you have to then make your way the same distance back home. It's also a good idea to tell someone that you're heading out and what time to expect you back. These days, most people are never too far away from their mobile phone, but it is worth repeating -always carry your phone with you.
This is a no-brainer during hot weather, as it is much clearer when you're sweating and too hot to notice a loss of fluids. But don't underestimate how much you sweat and how much fluid you could lose in cold weather. Sweat can evaporate as quickly, if not more quickly in cold weather than hot. Also, a cold climate is usually a much dryer environment than a hot one, so hydration is just as important.
Recognize Signs of Frostbite & Hypothermia
Frostbite and hypothermia are different conditions both related to severe cold conditions. Frostbite affects the outer lying skin and extremities, while hypothermia is a condition where the body's internal core temperature drops below a certain level. Knowing what to look for or the initial signs is one of the best ways to avoid frostbite or hypothermia.
Frostbite occurs in a few progressive stages, starting with frostnip where the skin turns red, very cold and eventual numbs. Next is superficial frostbite where the red skin of frosting turns white or very pale and ice crystals can form on the surface. Finally there is severe frostbite, which the affected area turns completely numb, the frostbite penetrates all layers of the skin and the tissue below. Sensation is lost along with control of muscles and joints. Severe frostbite can result in skin blisters and eventual tissue death.
Hypothermia usually begins gradually with shivering that becomes constant and increases in intensity. As a person becomes more hypothermic, their breathing will increase, increasing their heart rate and blood pressure, their speech becomes slurred, and they can also become confused and drowsy.
As usual, before starting any exercise program, consult with your doctor first. The best piece of advice is just to be smart and use common sense. Before heading out to workout, check the weather forecast. If it's going to be "brass monkeys" outside, then it might be a good idea to schedule your workout for another, warmer day. Sometimes it's okay to skip a workout on a day when the mercury has plummeted. If you can't live without getting that workout in, but it's just too darn cold outside, then stay home and workout with FitnessClass or FitnessBuilder in the comfort of your nice warm living room instead.