February 10, 2010
Cold, Hard Facts About Cold Weather Exercise
By Lindsey Capps, DPT
Aiken Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center
Augusta, GA—Everyone knows there are certain precautions you should take when exercising in the heat. But what about when it’s cold outside?
When the weather dips into the mid-30s to mid-40s—especially in the mornings, which is when many people like to exercise before starting their day—a few simple precautions can help prevent injury and ensure proper form.
Dress for Success
When you combine cold weather with exercise and top it all off with winter clothing, it could leave you a sweaty, shivering mess. Your body produces sweat to cool you down, but when temperatures are also low, you could get too cold if you aren’t wearing the proper clothing. Think layers—a wicking layer (not cotton since that absorbs moisture; choose synthetics and microfibers instead that allow sweat to evaporate), followed by an insulating layer and topped by a water/wind-proof layer. Because you lose about 40 percent of your body heat from your head, and 30 percent from your extremities, a hat—especially something that covers your ears—and gloves are also important pieces of equipment. Socks made of a wicking material will also help prevent blisters caused by moisture and friction, as can happen with cotton socks.
Warm Up on Cool Days
A proper warm-up, which helps deliver oxygen to and stretch “cold” muscles, is always recommended but perhaps even more so during cold days. Cooler weather means it may take a little longer for your muscles to loosen up, get flexible and work more efficiently. Remember to take the time to target stretches to different muscle groups all over your body—even if you’re “just running,” remember to warm up your arms, shoulders and core. And don’t forget about a cool down. It may seem paradoxical since you may assume that cold weather can just “cool you down,” but a sudden stop after exercising could cause your heart rate and blood pressure to drop too rapidly, leaving you feeling light-headed, dizzy and at risk for falls. A cool down will allow your body to slowly return to a resting heart rate.
We’ve all seen it. Call it the cold weather slouch, when your body reflexively hunkers in from the cold and the wind, and your arms and shoulders clench into your core. Unfortunately, poor posture, especially when running, can lead to shin splints and lower back pain, and even cause you to tire faster. A proper warm-up and workout attire helps, but also make a point of keeping good exercise posture—head up and back straight, with arms and shoulders loose but level.
Good form also includes continuing with proper breathing techniques—in through the nose and out through the mouth. Especially during cold weather, it’s important to properly oxygenate the lungs to prevent premature fatigue, difficulty breathing or other complications.
Finally, don’t forget about the basics. Cold weather and winter skies don’t mean you need less water or are at less risk of sun exposure. Make sure to hydrate appropriately before, after and during exercise, and always wear sunscreen if you’re working out outdoors, even on cloudy days. And try to avoid prolonged periods out in the cold during the coldest parts of the day.
Media Contact: Danielle Wong Moores, Public Relations Specialist, 706-434-0150
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