Too Cold to Exercise? Nope
By Jeff Watters
How many of you outdoor runners and exercisers pack it in for the cold winter months? Probably a good number of you do. How crazy would it be if you were told that these are the best times to be exercising? Not only exercising, but doing so outdoors? Well, I’m here to tell you that’s exactly the case.
One of the biggest questions from active people at this time of year is “when is it too cold to exercise outdoors?” The answer is never. There are far too many people that get drawn into myths about cold weather exercise; this prevents them from taking advantage of a truly great time to be out enjoying the great outdoors.
Some people worry that cold air will damage their lungs. If they do go out at all, they cover up their mouths with scarves in order to warm the air as it enters their body. Unnecessary! No matter how cold the air is, by the time it gets to your lungs, it’s body temperature. Any asthma like symptoms experienced during the cold weather exposure is because of dry air, not cold air. You would get the exact same response if you were to run someplace, such as a desert, where the air was just as dry but 70 degrees warmer.
Others believe that they need to wear so many layers of clothing that they’re hobbled by losing range of motion. So they slow down, no sprint work, worried that they’re more susceptible to injury. The truth is that you need to start out feeling a little bit cold. Your body temperature will elevate quickly. If you start out exercising and you’re warm when you begin, you have too much clothing on. Your body will be much more likely to dehydrate (yes! Even in the cold!) if you have too many layers on. The biggest hazard, hypothermia, comes only with a combination of wet AND cold. That’s because water transfers heat from the body so much faster than air. Another reason not to overdress. As long as you keep moving, your body generates heat. Plenty of heat to keep your core temperature above the 95 degrees needed to avoid hypothermia.
Doubt what I’m saying? We’ve been working out in the cold Michigan winters since 1995. Not once has someone stopped a workout because they were too cold. Here are the tips you’ll need to continue with your running / outdoor exercise routine until the spring gets here. Start with a “wicking” layer to pull moisture away from your body, both upper and lower body. Secondly, you’ll want some sort of insulating layer. Fleece is good but sometimes bulky. Avoid cotton. This layer should keep your body warm but not be too bulky. Lastly is your protection layer. This can be some sort of “shell”. This will be a light layer designed to keep the wind off of your body so your core body temperature stays where it should. If you don’t wear this, you could end up with that fun little wet AND cold combination we described above. And, just like your mother told you, always wear a hat and gloves. Your head loses the majority of the heat, if not covered, when you train in the cold. The first place your body will pull heat from is your extremities (hands and feet) so always keep them nice and warm.
Feel better now? No need to head to Florida or into the gym. Go plan your next winter race; you have no reason not to!