By Melanie Radzicki McManus, CNN
This winter is upsetting the training goals of many people. As the highly contagious variant of the Omicron coronavirus continues its rapid spread around the world, indoor exercise in public gyms is often less appealing or accessible. Still, recent storms and plummeting temperatures can make outdoor workouts daunting, even dangerous. Experts say, however, that you shouldn’t be afraid to brave the elements.
“Exercising in the cold isn’t harmful to your health and can be a healthy activity,” said Alex Tauberg, chiropractor at Tauberg Chiropractic & Rehabilitation in Pittsburgh.
Being outdoors and in nature is good for your mental health, studies show. This is especially true in winter, when many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression. There’s only one caveat to outdoor winter training, Tauberg said: you need to take proper precautions.
The risks are very real. Cold is a leading cause of death among people who play sports, according to the expert consensus statement on exercise in cold weather released by the American College of Sports Medicine in November 2021. Your body is working stronger to maintain its core temperature in cold weather, and it is easily dehydrated, frozen or hypothermic.
That said, it is not difficult to avoid disaster. Here are the top ways to assess your risks and mitigate potential dangers once you’re outdoors.
Important Note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your physician. Stop immediately if you feel pain.
Know the temperature and wind chill
Low temperature and wind can be a deadly combination, so check both the forecast and the wind chill factor before you go. When the wind chill value approaches minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 31.7 degrees Celsius), frostbite can occur within 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service. Even when the air temperature is 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius), frostbite can occur within half an hour if the wind is gusting at 30 miles per hour (48.3 kilometers per hour). time). There are also other considerations.
“We know that if you go out on a cloudy day where the dry bulb temperature is minus 10, it feels very different than on a sunny day where it’s minus 10 but you have the solar charge,” said Mike Tipton , professor of humanities. and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth in Hampshire, England, and a contributor to the ACSM Expert Consensus Statement.
But if you want to have a set number to fall back on, ACSM recommends staying indoors when the temperature is below minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 22 degrees Celsius).
Be aware of your personal risk factors
Unfortunately, some people are more susceptible than others to injury or poor health when exercising in the cold. The ACSM lists men, blacks, smokers, and people with heart and vascular disease as groups prone to frostbite.
“People with asthma, and especially exercise-induced asthma, need to be very careful when training in the cold,” Tauberg said. “Asthma can be exacerbated by cold, dry air and cause asthma attacks.”
Dress in layers
One of the most critical aspects of exercising safely in the cold is dressing in layers, three being the magic number: an inner layer touching your skin that draws sweat to the outer layers; an intermediate layer which serves as the main insulator; and a lightweight outer layer that repels wind and rain while allowing your body moisture to escape.
This three-tier system works, in part, by trapping air between the layers, which serves as additional insulation against the elements. But you should select layers made of appropriate materials, such as wool or technical fabrics like Polartec or Dryline, which help ensure sweat is pulled away from the body and released to evaporate into the air. Also, a hat is a must; you can lose at least half of your body heat if your head is bare. It is also important to cover your hands and neck.
Adjust your layers as needed
The main purpose of layering is to allow you to take items off when you warm up and then put them back on when you cool down.
If you don’t remove the layers when you warm up, you risk overheating and sweating. And when you sweat, the water droplets fill the spaces between your layers, replacing the air that helps with insulation. While you are exercising and still creating heat, a little sweat is not a big deal. But if you stop moving, you have a problem, because cold air and water are a deadly combination that promotes hypothermia.
“It’s hard to keep taking things off, putting them in your backpack, and then putting them back on,” Tipton said. “The desire to continue is enormous. But you have to fight that urge and do it.
Pay attention to your shoes
Some people think that an insulated, waterproof boot or shoe is the best winter shoe. Yet, if you put on an insulated, vapour-proof shoe or boot, you will sweat and end up with cold, wet feet. You can even develop frostbite from wearing this shoe so warm, Tipton said, although if your feet are cold and wet for many hours, you’re more likely to develop a non-freezing cold injury such as the foot of trench, which can be a significant problem.
So be sure to choose vapor permeable shoes for your winter workouts. And if you’re going to be walking, running, or hiking where there’s a lot of ice, put on some traction crampons or snowshoes.
Drink, drink, drink
Dehydration is not just a hot weather phenomenon. In fact, it can be more of a concern when the temperature drops. This is because you breathe in freeze-dried air, then heat and moisten it in your lungs before exhaling 100% water vapour. You can lose up to 2 or 3 liters of fluids per hour, Tipton said, and become significantly dehydrated. Worse, the cold decreases thirst by up to 40%, so you may not even realize you’re drying out.
The best thing to do is to drink before, during and after exercise. “Sip water frequently, don’t swallow it,” says Sue Hitzmann, a manual therapist and connective tissue specialist in New York City. “If you drink more regularly more often, your cells stay more hydrated and you transport nutrients more efficiently.”
Pouring 10 ounces of water every 30 minutes is the recommendation of Dr. Mark Slabaugh, sports physician and orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “However, increased wind chill requires even greater liquid consumption,” he said.
If you’re going to be exercising in the cold for more than an hour, it’s important to have a few snacks to keep your blood sugar levels up. Some possibilities: a peanut butter sandwich, a dried fruit trail mix or an energy bar.
“If your blood sugar drops too much, you’ll lose your ability to shiver and your perception of cold,” Tipton said. “You’ll tend to think you’re hotter than you are.”
Stretch before and after exercise
Stretching is even more important during the cold winter months, when your muscles contract to retain heat, making them tighter and more prone to injury, said Jorden Gold, founder of Stretch Zone, a chain of practitioner-assisted stretching facilities, and adjunct teacher. at the Educating Hands massage school.
“Think of your muscle as a tug stick,” he said. “A cold taffy stick would tear or break if you tried to bend or stretch it quickly before warming it in your hands first.”
Gold recommends performing dynamic warm-up stretches, such as leg kicks or arm circles, for at least 10 minutes when temperatures drop to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). Add five minutes to that for every 10 degrees colder. After exercise, doing static recovery stretches — holding a position for 30 seconds or more — will help slow your heart rate and relax your muscles, plus improve your range of motion and flexibility for future workouts. .
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Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel, and fitness.