Cold Weather Exercise: Use Caution

exercise cold weatherJanuary has arrived and so have so many New Year’s resolutions.  Probably one of the most common is to lose weight or get fit.  Many people will start going to the gym, but a lot of folks just aren’t “gym people.”  But it’s January…and it’s cold outside…how can you exercise outside in this type of weather?  Believe it or not, exercising in the cold can be safe and comfortable whether you’re running, snow shoeing, skiing, etc.

Let’s start by addressing a few misconceptions about working out in the cold.  First off, your lungs will not be damaged by exercising in the cold.  By the time cold air reaches your lungs, it has been warmed to body temperature.  Second, asthma symptoms are not triggered by cold temperatures.  Asthma is often triggered by dry air, and cold air tends to be drier because it does not hold moisture well.  So, this problem can be remedied by using medication from a respiratory specialist for exercising in dry conditions or by wearing aphysical therapy cold balaclava or a scarf across your face so that your exhaled breath moistens the air you breathe in.  Third, you do not have to excessively bundle up in order to work out in the cold.  This point will be addressed in more depth in our next blog.

The biggest concerns during exercise in the cold are frostbite and hypothermia.  Frostbite can occur when skin is exposed to excessively cold temperatures.  The National Safety Council suggests that temperatures at 20ºF pose little danger for damage even with winds up to 30mph, but once the wind chill factor (combined temperature and wind) reaches below -20ºF danger does exist.  The following chart provides a scale for the wind chill factor in relation to exposed skin.

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Not surprisingly the most common places that frostbite may occur are your cheeks, nose, and ears.  Be aware that it can also occur on your hands and feet.  When frostbite occurs it starts off with your skin feeling cold, followed by physical therapythe skin starting to hurt (ex. burning, aching, sharp pain), and finally a feeling of numbness.  If this occurs and the numbness persists after you have gradually warmed up inside, seek immediate medical attention.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops to excessively low levels.  It begins when the body temperature drops below 95ºF resulting in shivering and a rise in blood pressure.  Below 85ºF you will lose consciousness, and if your body temperature lowers any further you can die.  Your risk of hypothermia increases if you exercise in cold, rainy weather because water is 70 times more efficient than air at transferring heat from the body.

Our next important blog topic is how to exercise safely in the cold.  Check it out and learn more about exercising in the cold.




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