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Exercising Safely Outdoors in Winter

by / Published in General
Exercising Safely Outdoors in Winter

Exercising Safely Outdoors in Winter

Wintertime may seem like the time to move exercise indoors, but that’s not a given until temperatures drop below a certain level. Here are some tips to give your clients about safely exercising outdoors in the cold to help them make fresh air a part of their fitness routine all year long.

  • Check the wind chill index – Temperature alone isn’t enough of a guide to safe workout temperatures – you need to take the wind chill index into account as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent when the air temperature is above 5°F, but that risk increases at lower wind chill temperatures. Once the wind chill index dips below -18°F, you can get frostbite on exposed skin within 30 minutes or less.
  • Stay dry – It’s much more difficult to maintain your core body temperature if you get wet. Waterproof gear can help, or you may want to stay indoors until the sky clears.
  • Layer your clothing – You’ll start out cold at first, but you want to be able to peel off outer layers as your body warms up and you begin to sweat. If the intensity of your activity varies, you may find yourself adding and taking away layers as needed to stay comfortable.
  • Cover your head and extremities – To avoid frostbite, make sure your hands are adequately covered (preferably layered with thin and thicker gloves or mittens) and your socks are thick enough to keep your toes warm. Wear a hat or headband to protect your head and ears, and cover your face with a scarf or ski mask as needed.
  • Stay hydrated – Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean exercise isn’t dehydrating. Be sure to drink water or a sports drink at the same intervals you would use during warmer weather.
  • Avoid the health risks – Cold weather exercise has certain special risks that you should be aware of related to:
    • Breathing – Cold air tends to narrow your breathing passages, which can make it more difficult to breathe. If you have asthma or exercise-induced bronchitis, you should check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to exercise outdoors in the cold.
    • Frostbite – Your most vulnerable areas are anywhere the skin is exposed (generally cheeks, ears and nose) but you can also get frostbite on your feet and hands, despite gloves and socks. It starts with a feeling of numbness or stinging. If you think you may be developing frostbite, immediately get out of the cold and warm the potentially frostbitten body part(s) slowly.
    • Hypothermia – Hypothermia sets in when your core body temperature gets below 95°F. The symptoms include fatigue, uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech and loss of coordination. This is a situation where emergency medical help should be sought immediately.
    • Other medical conditions – If you have known heart problems or Raynaud’s disease (a circulatory condition), you should seek clearance from your doctor before exercising in the cold.
  • Watch your footing – Snow and ice can be slippery and dangerous even if you’re picking your way around in boots, so you can imagine the added risk of running on them. Make sure your shoes have good traction and use caution to avoid slips and falls.

With all of this advice in mind, most people should be able to continue exercising outdoors, at least occasionally, throughout much of the cold weather months.