Safe Exercise in the Cold

There are so many fun reasons for being outside in cold weather.  If you are lucky enough to live where there is snow there are a myriad of activities that beckon you outside; sledding, skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, or maybe just snow shoveling.  All of these are fun and great exercise but we need to be careful.  Even a small drop in body temperature can be dangerous.

Your body needs to maintain a constant temperature right around 98.6 degrees.  Anytime you are at risk of excessive heat loss you need to be careful.  Your body will start shivering when it senses a decrease in skin or blood temperature.  Shivering is a natural response to increase your body’s heat production.  Two cold related problems to watch out for are hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is heat loss that drops your body temperature below 94 degrees.  When this temperature drop happens your body loses its ability to regulate temperature, you will become drowsy, and can even go into a coma.

Frostbite happens when blood flow is reduced to the skin in order to prevent heat loss.  The skin tissue then dies internally from lack of oxygen and nutrients.  Frostbite needs to be treated right away.

Cold Safety Tips:

  • Pay attention to the wind-chill.  Windy conditions increase the rate of heat loss.  So you need to look at the actual temperature but also factor in wind conditions.  For example; its 20 degrees outside but there is a 16 mph wind that your body will feel like it is 4 degrees.  Pay attention to both wind and temperature and get a more accurate picture by using wind-chill numbers.
  • Stay hydrated.  Even though you are cold you will still sweat when you are exercising outside so keep up your fluids.  Keep away from caffeinated beverages, they dehydrate instead drink water or sports drinks.
  • Dress in lots of layers.  You can remove layers as you start to sweat and cover up more if you start to chill.  You do not want wet fabric touching your skin.  The new moisture wicking athletic fabrics are better next to your skin than cotton.
  • Keep your hands and feet warm and dry.  That means proper boots (this isn’t a time to be about fashion), gloves, mittens etc.  Invest in some warm boot socks that have wool or moisture wicking properties.  If you are throwing snowballs wear waterproof gloves or double glove.  You want to avoid wetness on your skin.
  • Cover up your head.  30% to 40% of body heat can be lost through your head.  Forget about the hair for now and cover up.  This can be the first thing you remove if you need to cool down from your activities.

So, in the winter we need to mindful of both temperature and wind-chill.  Have fun and be careful out there!


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