By Betty Murray
Winter has officially made its way to North Texas. With the blustery wind, the air outside is quite cold. If you are used to exercising outside, it’s important to understand the risks associated with cold weather exercise and how to keep yourself safe.
Research suggests that without adequate preparation, exercising in the cold could suppress your body’s immune function, putting you at greater risk of illness. Unfortunately, the cold weather comes just as flu season is peaking — making it even more important to do all you can to keep your immune system strong and healthy.
When the cold weather mixes with precipitation, the risk of slipping and falling on slick sidewalks or roads also must be considered, and cold weather at high altitudes may increase risk of heart attack. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends avoiding sudden physical exertion on cold weather, especially if you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease.
Don’t let the cold weather be an excuse to skip your workout. Keep yourself healthy with these safe training tips for cold weather.
1. Dress in layers. The temperatures have fallen just enough that it can be chilly in the early mornings and evenings. Wear layers so you stay warm. As your body temperature rises as you exercise, you can remove your outer layers as you begin to sweat. As you cool down, simply put the outer layers back on. Avoid wearing cotton, as it keeps moisture in, close to your skin, which can keep you from staying warm. Instead, wear moisture-wicking fabrics on the layer closest to your body to keep sweat away from your body.
3. Keep your head warm. Heat escapes through your head and neck so it’s important to wear a hat or headband to keep your head and ears covered, and a workout-friendly scarf around your neck.
4. Hydrate Even though it’s cooler outside, it is just as important to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout. Avoid sports drinks that contain high amounts of sugar. (Sports drinks are only beneficial to your hydration when your workout lasts longer than 90 minutes.)
5. Don’t go solo. Whether you’re out for a jog in the early morning or prefer working out in the evening, it is always safest and generally more fun to workout in groups. If you prefer not to workout in a large group, or can’t afford to, for safety reasons, find a friend to be your workout buddy, especially if you’re planning to exercise before the sun rises or in the evening. Workout out with others is also great for accountability to keep you on track.
6. Stretch. A proper warm-up is essential for any workout, indoors or out. Stretching before a hard workout allows your muscles to warm up and loosen before you begin strenuous activity. Tight, cold muscles are more prone to injury. Stretching isn’t important if you’re simply taking a walk, as a walk is all you need to gradually warm your muscles up. If you’re planning a vigorous workout, stretching beforehand is critical. Active, dynamic stretching is most beneficial as it improves blood flow to your muscles.
6. Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite and hypothermia are potential risks, especially if you are outside for too long without proper attire to keep you warm. Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia, and if you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
If the wind chill (the “feels like” temperature when wind is factored in) drops below zero, it’s safest to move your workout inside for the day. Remember, if you are used to the warmer weather in Texas, your body may have a more difficult time adjusting to the cold than someone who lives in a cooler climate.
Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.