Proper preparation and a good dose of fortitude is really all any avid runner or walker needs to continue an exercise and conditioning regime during the cold winter months, according to health and fitness experts.
Melissa Batterton, a physician’s assistant at Via Christi Family Practice Clinic in Hillsboro, and a committed runner says there’s little to be concerned, health-wise, about exercising in below-freezing temperatures.
“Even when it’s cold, you can bundle up and get out and exercise,” she said. “Fresh air is good for you, and getting outside is good for you, too—as long as it’s not too terribly cold.”
Batterton does caution certain groups of people about physical exertion in “really cold” weather, including those with asthma, heart and lung issues, the elderly and little children. Cold air does stress the body.
“If you have heart or lung problems, it may be best to avoid extreme cold,” she said. “But everybody still needs to exercise, so finding alternate places for exercise when it’s cold is important, whether it be a gym or somewhere else.”
Proper warm up and clothing
For Batterton and most health experts, proper warm up and proper clothing are the two biggest factors for exercising in cold weather.
“Make sure you warm up good before you go running fast so you don’t pull a muscle,” she said. “Going into a strenuous workout without stretching when its cold outside is more dangerous than when it’s warm out.”
As for clothing, Batterton recommends wearing layered clothing that can be removed as the body warms up during a run. The temptation is to put on more clothes then you’ll need.
“They usually say, as a rule thumb, dress like it’s 20 degrees warmer than what the thermometer says,” she said.
Wearing layers clothing is particular useful in winter as conditions change literally with the wind. Body heat changes dramatically when running into a cold wind than running with one.
“If it’s windy, a wind-resistant covering will help,” Batterton said.
Its always helpful to keep the head and ears covered in cold weather.
“Something over your ears and your head will keep your body a lot warmer,” she said. “Even when your body is starting to warm up, your head and ears can get cold. If you keep the head and ears warm, the rest of our body doesn’t need as many clothes, maybe.
Materials make a difference
As for types of clothing, some experts recommend particular kinds of material.
One cold-weather veteran recommend starting with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which wicks sweat from your body. Stay away from cotton because it holds the moisture and will keep you wet.
An outer, breathable layer of nylon or Gore-Tex will help protect you against wind and precipitation, while still letting out heat and moisture to prevent overheating and chilling. If it’s really cold out, a middle layer, such as polar fleece, is helpful for added insulation.
The first mile or so is usually the worst during a run, especially if you choose to head into the wind.
When it’s really cold
Here are some of these ideas for making that first mile a little easier and more comfortable:
• Warm up inside before you head out. Run or march in place for 10 minutes or do other warm-up exercises. Your muscles will already be warm, so you won’t notice the extreme temperature difference as much.
• Warm up your clothes in the dryer. Throw your running clothes in the dryer for a few minutes before you head out the door into the blustery weather. By the time the warmth from the dryer fades, you’ll be past that first uncomfortable mile.
• Cover your face. To make breathing easier during that first mile, cover your mouth and nose with a neck warmer, scarf or bandana. This will help warm the air before it hits your lungs. You can always take it off once you warm up and your body adjusts.
• Use hand warmers. Hands and feet often are the last parts of the body to warm up. It helps to use hand warmers inside your gloves or socks. Once your hands and feet warm up, you can take them out so you don’t overheat.
• Double up on your gloves. In really cold temperatures, you may need an extra layer of gloves to help keep those hands warm. You can always take off the extra pair and put them in your pocket once they get warm.