Exercising in different conditions can be exhilarating, whether you are hiking in the heat of summer, cross-country skiing on a crisp winter day, or heading out for an evening run. This winter coronavirus has closed the gyms. Many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts will find the refuge outdoors – visiting the nearest street workout park. Yet it’s important to be aware of potential hazards associated with these conditions and how to sidestep them. Exercising in cold weather is a potentially dangerous activity. In this article you’ll find some useful tips on how to turn outdoor exercise into a safe and fun activity.
The potential dangers of exercising in cold weather
The ideal exercise temperature range is about 4 to 29°C with a wind speed less than 25 kph, but many people continue to exercise outdoors at temperatures well below 4°C. Generally, cold weather is less dangerous to an exerciser – but definitely not risk-free. When you exercise outdoors in cold weather you encounter an entirely new set of difficulties. Besides often-treacherous footing on snow-covered or icy surfaces, you must contend with low temperatures and the wind.
When body tissue freezes the injury is called frostbite, which usually strikes fingers, toes, nose and ears. Frostbitten skin is numb, hard and pale, and requires immediate medical attention. If you suspect you have frostbite, get indoors quickly and get help. First aid steps include covering the frozen area with a blanket and drinking a warm non-alcoholic beverage.
Prolonged exposure to extreme cold, especially during exercise, can result in a depletion of energy stores (calories) which can cause a drop in body temperature. This in turn can cause gradual mental slowing. The stricken person becomes increasingly unreasonable, clumsy, irritable, sleepy, and eventually lapses into a coma. This is a life-threatening condition. Severe hypothermia can lead to cardiac and respiratory failure and death. To help, your first move should be to call your local emergency number.
Mechanical injuries of the head and locomotor (musculoskeletal system
There’s always the danger of falling due to slippery conditions. A simple fall on the ice can lead to several different types of injuries, such as: concussions, sprain or strains, and broken bones.
As the air temperature drops, your body’s air-warming system may not be able to adequately heat the cold air entering your mouth and flowing down your windpipe. As a result, the incoming cold air may cause your coronary arteries to constrict – resulting in a heart attack – particularly if you are not in good condition.
Since it is not hot outside, and people are not sweating as much, they tend to drink less water when exercising.
Safety tips for exercising outdoors
The most important thing is to stay safe during cold-weather exercise.
- Listen to weather reports and note the temperature and windchill factor. Unless the equivalent temperature is in the area of little danger, avoid exercising outside.
- In cold weather, be guided by the Wind Chill Temperature Index which is a measure of the relative discomfort due to combined cold temperature and wind. As the wind speed increases, the temperature of any exposed skin drops even further.
- Eat well during cold months; the body needs more calories in cold weather. This will reduce the chances for developing hypothermia.
- Warm up carefully until sweating is evident.
- Use two or three layers of clothing rather than one heavy warm-up suit. The inner layer should be a material that wicks away moisture, such as polypropylene or wool. Do not wear cotton next to your skin, because it loses its ability to insulate when you perspire and it gets wet.
- Protect the head (warm hat), ears, fingers, toes, nose, and genitals. A hat should cover the ears and face. Fur lined supporters for men can prevent frostbite to sensitive parts.
- Never use rubberized, airtight suits that keep the sweat in. When the body cools, the sweat starts to freeze.
- Keep clothing dry and change out of wet items as soon as possible.
- Slowly increase the length of your workout by 5 to 10 minutes daily for 9 days to acclimate to the cold.
- Drink cold water freely before, during, and after exercise. Let thirst be your guide.
Also, don’t forget standard weight training safety tips and precautions.
Closing thoughts about exercising in cold weather
Potentially serious consequences of very low wind-chill temperatures are frostbite, hypothermia and heart attack. However, cold weather doesn’t have to mean the end of outdoor exercise for most people. Exercising outdoors in cold weather can be perfectly safe (just like exercising in hot weather), but it does require extra precautions. As the following guidelines show, the trick is to combine a few simple precautions with the right gear.
However, once the wind-chill temperature reaches about -12°C exercising outdoors becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Even if you are an outdoor enthusiast, at this wind chill you may want to think about changing to an indoor exercise routine until the weather moderates. If you insist on working out in very hot or cold weather, always let someone know when and where you will be exercising and when you plan to return back.