Take Special Precautions When Exercising in Cold Weather

Patient Expert

Early this morning, I heard the first blast of this latest winter weather knocking on the door. Well, actually, maybe I had better say that the wind gust that signaled the impending deep freeze rattled our windows. And almost everyone's going to be really cold When I work, I often stream the broadcast of Colorado Public Radio. This morning, they're reporting that Aspen, Colorado is 12 degrees below zero. Brrrrr!

So what should you do if you like to exercise outdoors, but when you open your door, you're faced with this type of bracing chill? Here are some tips:

  • Check with your doctor before exercising in cold weather. The Mayo Clinic notes that while everyone can safely exercise in cold weather, people with certain conditions such as asthma and heart issues can be at risk. Therefore, it's important to talk to your doctor about any precautions you need to take based on your individual health.
  • Check the weather before heading outdoors. A wind chill can make exercising outdoors unsafe.   So what is wind chill? "Wind chill is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss on the human body resulting from the combined effect of low temperature and wind," the National Weather Service stated. "As winds increase, heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, driving down both the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature." So for instance, as I write this sharepost the actual temperature in Oklahoma City is 25 degrees. However, the wind is blowing out of the north at 20 miles per hour (with 25 miles per hour gust), which makes it feel like 10 degrees if you're outside. The Mayo Clinic warns that if the temperature is below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or there's an extreme wind chill, you should opt for exercising indoors. If you are determined to exercise outdoors, then take extra precautions with your clothing.
  • Dress in layers.   You need layers because you'll get warmer as your body generates heat while exercising and then probably get chilled when your sweat starts to dry. Thus, layering allows you to remove outer garments when you're overheating, but will have them available to put on when you get cold. The Mayo Clinic recommends making the first layer be a garment that is a thin synthetic material such as polypropylene that draws sweat away from the body. Then layer with fleece or wool, followed by a waterproof outer layer that is breathable. And in this very cold weather, you may want to use a face mask or scarf that covers your nose and mouth, which will warm up the air as you breathe in.
  • Keep your extremities warm. Cold weather causes your blood to congregate in your body's core in order to warm your heart, lungs and other vital organs. Therefore, your feet and hands can get really cold really quickly and came become vulnerable to frostbite. To prevent this from happening, layer your gloves or wear ones that are lined with fleece or wool. Also, wear an extra pair of socks or thermal socks. Your ears also are vulnerable to the extreme cold so be sure to wear a hat or headband and to use the hood if you have one on your parka or coat.
  • Consider which exercises you do. Activities that incorporate different levels - such as walking and running - can prove challenging in regulating body heat since you'll work up a sweat while running and then can quickly become cold while walking. Therefore, try to maintain the same intensity level in any physical activity that you do.
  • Be careful about the surfaces on which you exercise. Extremely cold weather can lead to frozen surfaces that can become slippery. If you encounter these types of surfaces, you can lose your balance and fall, leading to injuries ranging from bruises to broken bones or worse. Therefore, you need to be careful what where you exercise as much as the intensity level of your exercise.

Primary Resources for This Sharepost:

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Exercise and cold weather: Tips to stay safe outdoors.

National Weather Service. (2001). Wind chill.