Exercise should be enjoyed year round. The colder winter months should not stop your efforts to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. However, with the onset of colder and wetter days, you need to be aware of steps to take to ensure you are protecting your body from risks associated from cold weather. With a few simple steps or changes to your exercise routine, you can be sure to continue your fitness goals through the winter. Moreover, exercise in the winter can offset the feelings of boredom or depression known to be associated with shorter days, and increasing amounts of time inside.
So here are some ways to stay safe, so you can exercise through those colder days:
- Dress in lose layers. Tight clothes can restrict blood flow, making it harder for your body to regulate its temperature. Moreover, loose layers offer the advantage of trapping pockets of air that act as natural insulation against cold weather and enable you to quickly make small adjustments to your insulation (by removing layers) should you find yourself overheating.
- Wear an outer waterproof layer on wet days. Winter is not like the summer, when wet days can feel good against rising temperatures. In contrast, wet clothes in winter months or cold weather can work to speed up the process by which your body loses heat, and increases your risk of hypothermia.
- Wear reflective elements. Colder months are known for shorter days. If you are out during darker hours, be sure to stay safe by wearing either reflective clothing or items.
- Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves. Be sure to insulate all the areas where your body can lose heat. There are several brands of outdoor exercise clothing lines that offer insulated gloves, hats, and scarves for exercise that are both light weight and easy to carry if you over heat and need to take them off.
- Take adequate fluids prior to exercise. You may not realize it, but even in colder weather your body loses moisture in sweat. To avoid the risk of dehydration, be sure to consume adequate fluids prior to and during exercise. You may not feel like you need fluids in colder weather, but you do.
- Check the weather conditions. Last thing you want in colder weather is to be colder or wetter than you planned. Always check the weather conditions for your intended exercise time, and plan appropriately. And accept that there are some conditions that will make it smarter to remain inside.
- Warm up prior to exercising. Unlike warmer weather, your body can be stiffer with less blood flow in colder weather. Stretch out your muscles, do some low intensity jumping jacks, or high knees – just get the blood going, and thus warming your body, prior to hitting the cold weather. This does not mean work up a sweat – just spend a few minutes loosening and warming up.
Hypothermia Risks and Detection
As with any exposure to cold weather, even if properly prepared, you need to be aware of the risks of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. The risk of cold exposure increases as the winter months arrive. However, you should be aware that any time you are exposed to cold temperatures, such as a mountain hike in spring or cold wet winds during a summer ocean sailing trip, you can also be at risk of hypothermia.
Normal body temperature averages 98.6 degrees. With hypothermia, core temperature drops below 95 degrees. In severe hypothermia, core body temperature can drop to 82 degrees or lower.
Hypothermia symptoms for adults include:
- Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses (shivering is actually a good sign that a person’s heat regulation systems are still active. )
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Confusion and memory loss
- Drowsiness or exhaustion
- Slurred or mumbled speech
- Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps
- A slow, weak pulse
- In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse
Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition that needs emergency medical attention.
If medical care isn’t immediately available:
- Remove any wet clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, and socks
- Protect the person against wind, drafts, and further heat loss with warm, dry clothes and blankets
- Move gently to a warm, dry shelter as soon as possible
- Begin rewarming the person with extra clothing. Use warm blankets. Other helpful items for warming are: an electric blanket to the torso area and hot packs and heating pad on the torso, armpits, neck, and groin; however, these can cause burns to the skin. Use your own body heat if nothing else is available
- Take the person’s temperature if a thermometer is available
- Offer warm liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine, which speed up heat loss. Don’t try to give fluids to an unconscious person
In the end, cold weather should be anything but a barrier to your fitness efforts. Plan, adjust, and be smart. And most importantly, know the risks. So throw on your shoes, layer up properly, hydrate, warm up, and…