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Exercising in the Winter: Is It Good or Bad for My Health?

Community Care Physicians - Want to stick to your New Year's resolution to get or stay fit but not sure if exercising outside this time of year is safe?

Exercising in the Winter: Is It Good or Bad for My Health?

In the cold months, it's hard to get out and exercise, but some of us are determined to stick to our New Year's resolutions of losing weight or staying in shape. So if we don't want to endure the cost of joining a gym, is it safe to continue to exercise outdoors in the cold weather? The answer is YES! However, it's important to practice safety techniques when exercising in cold weather. If you have certain health conditions such as asthma or heart problems, check with your doctor before exercising in cold weather temperatures.

Pay Attention to the Weather Forecast

Before heading out for a run, bike ride or other outdoor workout, check the weather forecast for extreme weather conditions such as hail, cold temperatures and high winds. After checking the forecast, determine if the amount of time you plan on being outside for is safe. Wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors not only difficult but unsafe, even if you dress warmly. According to the Mayo Clinic, the wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body, and any exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite. If the temperature drops below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor exercise instead.

Know How to Recognize the Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears, but can also occur on hands and feet that are protected by warm clothing. It's important to understand how to recognize the signs of frostbite. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. If you suspect you or a workout partner is experiencing frostbite, get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area.

Hypothermia can occur when the body's temperature drops dramatically. When your body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures, it will lose heat faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia is often caused by exercising in cold weather and rainy weather. Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. It's important to seek emergency attention right away if you or a loved one is experiencing the signs of hypothermia.

Dress Properly for Cold Temperatures

One of the biggest mistake people can make when heading out in cold temperatures is dressing in too many layers that are not insulated and sweat proof. Plan on wearing insulated clothing and sweat-resistant material. Do not wear too many layers as they can cause you to sweat even more, which can actually make you colder in frigid temperatures. First, put on a thin layer that will draw sweat away from the body, such as polypropylene. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Wear clothing that you can easily remove if you start to sweat. Then add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Finally, add a waterproof jacket or any type of breathable outer layer. If you are a lean person, you may need more insulation than someone who is heavier.

Remember to protect your extremities, which include your head, hands, feet and ears. Blood flow is concentrated on your body's core in cold temperatures, which means your head, hands and feet are more vulnerable to frostbite. Wear a thin pair of glove liners made of wicking material under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. Consider purchasing exercise shoes a half-size larger so you are able to wear thermal socks to protect your feet in cold temperatures.

Don't Forget to Hydrate

Hydration is extremely important with exercise, as we all know. But did you know that you can become just as dehydrated in cold weather as you can in warmer weather? Drink water before and after your workout.

Weight Loss Goals

You can still stick to your goals of losing weight or staying fit even in frigid temperatures, but make sure you are practicing safe exercising techniques first! Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine or starting a new workout in colder temperatures.

Learn more about our WE CARE program and the fitness classes we offer by visiting our website.

Mayo Clinic
Winter Fitness: Safety Tips for Exercising Outdoors
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