Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. Exercising Outdoors in the Cold: Yes!

    We all know how important exercise is to your overall health and weight loss efforts, but what about when it starts to get cold? Can you stay motivated and moving when it’s cold outside? Yes you can! Just because Jack Frost has started nipping at your nose doesn’t mean you need to be forced inside or give up your exercise routine. With just a few precautions exercising outdoors in the cold can be quite fun and beneficial.

    Benefits of Exercising Outdoors
    (yes, even in the cold)

    • You’ll be more engaged. Research has shown that exercising outdoors tends to be more mentally stimulating compared to exercising indoors. It makes sense when you consider how much more vigilant you have to be when running or walking in your neighborhood versus being on a treadmill. The importance of paying attention to your terrain and changing surroundings so you don’t injure yourself cannot be overlooked.
    • You’ll have more energy. Outdoor-exercisers often report greater feelings of revitalization and increased energy: nothing wakes you up like a brisk walk on a cool morning.
    • You’ll breathe cleaner air. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air, a lot more polluted.
    • You’ll get your daily dose of Vitamin D. Scientists recommend outdoor exercise as a way to get your vitamin D through sunlight. This is especially important if you are overweight as a recent study found that people who are overweight are almost twice as likely to be deficient in vitamin D.

    How to Safely Exercise in the Cold

    Exercising in the Cold Rule #1: Dress in layers

    Exercising outside when it's cold can be tricky. You're freezing when you first start exercising. But then as you start to move you warm up and you begin sweating. Then the sweat starts to dry and you get chilled. And then you're miserable. The solution? Layers.

    Dressing in layers is key to maintaining a comfortable, safe body temperature. However, the way you layer is just as important as if you layer. You need to make sure you can peel off or put on clothing as needed. You need clothes that work together to wick away moisture, insulate and protect from wind, rain and snow. Proper layering is broken into three categories: inner, middle and outer.

    The inner layer, also called a base layer, is the first layer of clothing you wear directly contacting your skin. This layer should fit snug and be made of synthetic material to wick away the sweat and keep your skin dry and warm. Cotton is not a good choice as it tends to trap moisture and exercising outside in the cold with a wet, soggy shirt is no fun!

    The mid layer should be a looser fit than the inner layer, but not baggy. This layer is designed to trap and hold your body heat in. Good materials for the middle layer are fleece, polyester, down and wool.

    And finally the outer layer should keep you protected from the weather: wind, rain, snow and the like. The outer layer should also be rugged and able to stand up to the elements.

    While the three-layer approach is a good rule of thumb, you don’t always need all three layers all the time. That’s the beauty of layering, you can take on and peel off layers as needed.

    Exercising in the Cold Rule #2: Stay Hydrated

    When exercising in the cold you may not necessarily feel the effects of water loss, like you do when it’s blazing hot outside. But, your body continues to lose water and you need to keep yourself hydrated (just like when you exercise outside in the heat). And the effects of dehydration can impact your your body's ability to keep you warm.

    Bottom line: Drink plenty of water when you’re exercising outside in the cold. And be sure to drink water even if you don't feel thirsty, because by the time you're thirsty, you may already be dehydrated.

    Exercising in the Cold Rule #3: Protect your Extremities

    When it's cold, our bodies concentrate our blood flow to our core, to keep us warm and to protect all our vital organs. But this leaves our extremities particularly vulnerable to frostbite. So to keep these body parts protected be sure to wear gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. You may want to have an extra pair of exercise shoes that are a half-size larger than usual to allow for thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks. And don't forget a hat and scarf to protect your ears and nose, which also are vulnerable to frostbite.

    Exercising in the Cold Rule #4: Pay Attention to Weather Conditions

    Exercising when it's cold and raining can make you miserable. If you get soaked, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature high enough, and layering doesn't help if your clothes are wet. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body, and any exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite. So before you head out, be sure you know what you're facing; knowledge for proper preparation is key!  A good rule of thumb: If the temperature dips well below 0 F or the wind chill is extreme, stay inside.

    Exercising in the Cold Rule #5: Remember Sunscreen

    It's just as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer, even more so if you’re  exercising in the snow and/or at high altitudes. Wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at least 30. Use a lip balm that contains sunscreen. And protect your eyes from snow and ice glare with dark glasses or goggles.

    Exercising in the Cold Rule #6: Know the Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia

    Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks or the tip of your nose, but can happen anywhere on your body (even covered parts). Signs of frostbite include numbness, prickling, and itching of the extremities including fingers, toes, nose, and ears.

    Hypothermia can happen when you’ve worked up a good sweat then are idle: being wet and still in the cold is not only uncomfortable but can be downright dangerous. Signs of hypothermia include: drowsiness, disorientation, weakness, loss of coordination and concentration.

    If you experience any of these symptoms: go inside and get warm! If you suspect you have frostbite, slowly warm the affected area. Never rub your skin as it can cause permanent damage.

    Exercising in the Cold Rule #7: Remember That it’s Ok to Go (or stay) Inside

    While all these “rules” can help you safely enjoy the benefits of exercising outside in the cold, you have to remember to listen to your body. If you start to get too cold or experience any of the symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, go inside, get warm and seek medical help. And remember if you look outside the window and it just doesn’t look safe or fun, then just stay inside. And exercise.

     Author: Sue Ridgeway

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