4 Safe Practices for Exercising Outdoors in Cold Weather

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The temperature continues to drop outside and the winter months are quickly approaching. While some people use the chilly weather as an excuse to go into hibernation, others want to find ways to keep their outdoor fitness routines in tact. Sure, it’s tempting to stay inside and be draped in blankets all day. But going for a jog or a run in the cold can actually be quite fun. Still, you must take proper care of yourself if you want to safely brave the elements during physical activity.

The American Council on Exercise says the biggest worry for any person training on a cold day is the risk of getting hypothermia, a potentially dangerous change in body temperature falling below the normal average of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to around 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The main goal is to comfortably engage in exercise without losing your core body heat.

Nevertheless, there are other things to consider when preparing to step outside for some exercise. And yes, common sense is important. Paying attention to how your body responds to the cold can serve as a litmus test for knowing when it’s time to pack up and head back indoors. In the meantime, here are four safe practices for exercising in cold weather.

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1. Dress Accordingly

One common mistake by outdoor exercisers is overdressing for the workout. Keeping warm is necessary. But bundling up can make you overheat and sweat too much, allowing your body to get wet and actually lose heat. Dr. Michael Gross, an orthopedic in sports medicine, says dressing in layers is the key to avoid this. It’s necessary to be comfortable while still having the option to strip off a piece of clothing as the workout progresses. Several lighter layers are better than a heavy jacket — and be sure to stick with synthetic materials that make good insulation but allow sweat to move away from the body. Steer clear of cotton because it retains water.

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2. Protect Your Hands, Feet, and Head

When it gets very cold and temperatures drop, your blood flow focuses on the body’s core, which leaves your extremities susceptible to frostbite and tissue damage. Wearing a hat to cover your ears is essential because up to 50 percent of body heat dissipates through our heads. You must also protect your hands, again using the layer method with a pair of lighter gloves underneath some heavier mittens. For the feet and toes, wear exercise shoes just a half-size larger than normal to allow for thicker socks underneath. Also, make sure your shoes have enough traction to prevent falls even when coming in contact with snow or ice.

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3. Stretch and Warm Up Effectively

When it’s colder outside, bodies tend to stiffen more easily. While stretching has always helped to lessen the chance of injury, keeping yourself flexible throughout your physical activity is appropriate to keep muscles warm. That’s one reason why the doctors at the Allegheny Health Network came up with an extensive list of stretches for people exercising on frosty days. They also say warming up before and after the workout prevents the onset of delayed muscle soreness. Taking a light jog before “the main event” can do wonders for increasing your core body temperature, which makes the stretching that much easier.

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 4. Beware of Frigid Temperatures and Conditions

Even though you feel like Superman, you’re still not the man of steel. The common sense factor comes into play here. The American Council On Exercise reports “the danger zone” for skin exposure is a wind chill of -20 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that can cause severe frostbite. If, for some odd reason, you’re exercising outdoors in a temperature that comes even close to that number, you should wear a mask over your nose and mouth to warm the air before you inhale. But as a rule of thumb, check the temperature and wind conditions if there are any doubts about whether it’s safe enough to be outside.

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