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Cold Weather Workouts
How to prepare yourself before working out in the cold.

Winter is great if you're prepared.
Cold weather is great if you're prepared.

With the onset of cooler weather, workouts change. In places like Key West, people are more inclined to exercise outside. In northern climates, the opposite happens. As temperatures drop, many people move their workouts indoors.

You don’t have to hide inside, just prepare properly. Here are some things you should do when the weather gets cold.

Protect exposed skin from the sun. Up to 80% of light can be reflected from snowy surfaces. Anything that’s not covered may be at risk of a sunburn. It takes about 15 minutes for the full protection of sunscreen to kick in, so apply it first. That way you can be sure to cover everything before the other layers go on.

Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Exercise in the cold may not leave you feeling as sweaty or thirsty as you would on a hot day, but your body still needs fluids. Cold takes moisture out of the air, acting like a dehumidifier on your body. That drying effect can lead to chapped and cracked skin if you don’t drink enough. For extra protection make sure to moisturize your skin before heading out.

Dress in layers so you can add or subtract them as temperatures change.

The layer closest to your skin should be lightweight and made of a wicking material. Synthetics like polyester or polypropylene that are both stretchy and snug work well. ClimaLite, CoolMax, Ingeo, PrimaLoft, Sensura, Thermax, Thorlon and Wonder-Wick are all reasonable options.

The middle layer should be materials that hold in body heat. Wool (the less itchy brands) or synthetics with air pockets to trap warmth work well. Make sure this layer isn’t too tight, or it may restrict circulation and make you feel colder.

The outermost layer should be something that protects against wind from burrowing in. If it’s raining or snowing, you want a waterproof outer layer. Look for fabrics that breathe so your sweat can escape but water can’t penetrate. It’s also good if the top layer has zippers so you can vent hot air out, without taking it off.

Protect your lungs. When temperatures drop to freezing and below, you might get a burning feeling when you take in deep breaths. Don’t worry, you’re not damaging your lungs. When you inhale dry cold air, the bronchial tubes tighten. As those tubes constrict, your airways narrow and breathing becomes more difficult.

To avoid the problem, wear a balaclava, buff, mask or scarf to cover your mouth and warm the air you’re breathing in. In climates where the temperature goes below zero degrees Fahrenheit, consider investing in a heat exchanger mask.

Protect your extremities including head and ears, hands and feet. A warm beanie or insulating hat with earflaps is great for your head. Gloves should be breathable and water-resistant. Socks should wick moisture away and not be too tight, or else they can reduce circulation and make your feet colder. 

Warm-up before heading out. The colder it is, the more important a warm-up is to protect against the effects of cold and dry air on the lungs. Short but intense bursts of exercise known as high-intensity intervals seem to work best.

Keep a charged cell phone near your body. Cold can drain a battery extremely quickly. You need to keep the phone warm so it will continue to work.

People with medical conditions, specifically asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, poor circulation or Raynaud syndrome should talk with a doctor before exercising in the cold.

Because of an increased risk for frostbite and hypothermia, exercise more caution if the weather is colder than –10 degrees Fahrenheit and calm. If there’s a wind, the effect of the cold is amplified. Should the wind chill be colder than –15 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to be especially vigilant about protecting yourself and any exposed skin.

Wind Chill Chart

Finally, choose your route carefully. Look for clear paths that aren’t icy, or wear shoes with gear that prevents slipping.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.