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Exercising in the Cold Weather

January 23rd 2020

Cold weather can discourage even the most motivated exercisers to put away their workout gear for the winter, but the low temperatures don’t have to spell the end of your fitness routine.

Despite a common misconception, exercise is safe even in the cold weather. However, if you have certain conditions, such as asthma, heart problems or Raynaud’s disease, you should check with your primary care provider first to review any special precautions needed based on your condition or your medications.

Here are a few tips for staying safe and exercising in the cold weather, according to The Mayo Clinic.

Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia

Though it is rarely cold enough in South Carolina to experience serious frostbite, it is still important to know the signs of both frostbite and hypothermia when exercising outside.

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears. It can also occur on hands and feet. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation.

Immediately get out of the cold if you suspect frostbite. Slowly warm the affected area — but don’t rub it because that can damage your skin. Seek emergency care if numbness doesn’t go away.

Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Exercising in cold, rainy weather increases the risk of hypothermia. Older adults and young children are at greater risk.

Hypothermia signs and symptoms include:

  • Intense shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fatigue

Seek emergency help right away for possible hypothermia.

Dress in layers

Dressing too warmly is a big mistake when exercising in cold weather. Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like it’s much warmer than it really is. The evaporation of sweat, however, pulls heat from your body and you feel chilled. The solution?

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.

Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer.

You may need to experiment to find the right combination of clothing for you based on your exercise intensity. If you’re lean, you may need more insulation than someone who is heavier.

Keep in mind that stop-and-go activities, such as mixing walking with running, can make you more vulnerable to the cold if you repeatedly work up a sweat and then get chilly.

Protect your body

When it’s cold, blood flow is concentrated in your body’s core, leaving your head, hands and feet vulnerable to frostbite.

If it’s cold enough, put on mittens or gloves before your hands become cold and then remove them when your hands get sweaty.

Don’t forget safety gear and sunscreen

With the winter comes less sunlight. If it’s dark when you exercise outside, wear reflective clothing. And if you ride a bike, both headlights and taillights are a good idea.

It’s as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer, so wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and a lip balm with sunscreen if you’re going to be outside in the sun for long periods of time.

Drink plenty of fluids

Don’t forget about hydration, as it’s just as important during cold weather as it is in the heat. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout, even if you’re not really thirsty.

You can become dehydrated in the cold from sweating, breathing, the drying power of the winter wind and increased urine production, but it may be harder to notice during cold weather months.

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