Tammy Roberts, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri Extension
For many people, the cold winter weather is a reason not to exercise outside or not to exercise at all. However, it is possible to get a great workout outdoors as long as you exercise caution and dress properly.
Exercising in cold weather can put extra stress on the body. It is important to consult your physician if you have a medical condition that puts you at risk before implementing a new outdoor regimen.
The two conditions you have to worry about when exercising outdoors during winter months are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is a condition that describes freezing body tissue. It occurs most often on fingers, toes, ears and face. Symptoms of frostbite include pain, numbness, tingling and burning of the affected site. Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature drops to below 95 degrees. Symptoms include chills, fatigue, drowsiness, slurred speech, intense shivering and loss of coordination.
The right clothes are your first line of defense against these conditions. Dress in layers. The first layer of clothing should be a layer of thin synthetic fabric such as polypropylene, which helps draw sweat away from the body. The next layer should be fleece or wool to help insulate the body. The top layer should be waterproof to help keep heat from escaping and keep moisture and wind out.
It’s also important to protect the areas of the body prone to frostbite. A thin pair of gloves under a heavier pair will protect hands. Thermal socks will help protect the feet. It may be necessary to purchase shoes a half size larger to allow for the thickness of the socks. Don’t forget a hat or headband to protect your ears.
Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is not just a risk in the summer. When sweating and increased breathing occur, in any type of weather, dehydration is a possibility.
It is particularly important to warm up properly for cold weather workouts. The body tends to stiffen more easily in cold weather. Do a short warm-up activity followed by stretching to help prevent injury.
Remember that shoveling snow can be a good workout, but can also take a toll on people who are not used to heavy lifting. Take the same precautions you would for any other hard outdoor workout because that is exactly what it is!