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Exercise and cold weather: Tips to stay safe outdoors
Dressing in layers, protecting your hands and feet, and paying attention to the forecast can help you stay safe and warm while exercising outdoors in cold weather.By Mayo Clinic staff
So you don't like grinding out miles on the treadmill or power walking the malls, but you dread exercising during cold weather. Unfortunately, cold weather can discourage even the most motivated exercisers. And if you're not so motivated, it's all too easy to pack away your workout gear along with your warm-weather clothing.
You don't have to let cold weather spell the end of your exercise. With these tips for exercising during cold weather, you can stay fit, motivated and warm when the weather turns chilly.
Stay safe during cold-weather exercise
Almost everyone can exercise safely during cold weather. But if you have certain conditions, such as asthma, heart problems or Raynaud's disease, check with your doctor before you work out in cold weather. Your doctor can review any special precautions you need based on your condition or medications you might take. The following tips can also help you stay safe — and warm — while working out in the cold.
Dress in layers
One of the biggest mistakes you can make while exercising in cold weather is to dress too warmly. Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like it's much warmer than it really is. Yet, once your sweat starts to dry, you can get chilled. The solution?
Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. First, put on a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. A heavy down jacket or vest may cause you to overheat if you're exercising hard. If you're lean, you may need more insulation than someone who is heavier. If it's very cold, consider wearing a face mask or scarf to warm the air before it enters your lungs.
You may need to experiment before you find a combination of clothing that works well for you based on your exercise intensity. Keep in mind, too, that stop-and-go activities, such as mixing walking with running, can make you more vulnerable to the cold if you repeatedly work up a sweat and then get chilly.
Protect your hands, feet and ears
When it's cold, blood flow is concentrated on your body's core, leaving your hands and feet vulnerable to frostbite. Try wearing a thin pair of gloves under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. Don the mittens or gloves before your hands become cold and then remove them if your hands begin to sweat.
Considering buying exercise shoes a half-size or one size larger than usual to allow for thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks. And don't forget a hat or headband to protect your ears, which also are vulnerable to frostbite.
Pay attention to weather conditions and wind chill
Exercising when it's cold and raining can make you more vulnerable to the cold. If you get soaked, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature high enough, and layering won't help if your clothes are wet. If it's extremely cold, you may need to take your exercise indoors or skip it for a day or two.
Wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe even if you dress warmly. 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 dips well below 0 F (-17.8 C) or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor activity instead, or take extra precautions if you choose to exercise outdoors anyway.
Choose appropriate gear
If it's dark when you exercise outside, wear reflective clothing. To stay steady on your feet, choose footwear with enough traction to prevent falls, especially if it's icy or snowy. Wear a helmet while skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. Consider using chemical heat packs to warm up your hands or feet.Next page
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- Miller T. Preparing for cold weather exercise. National Strength and Conditioning Association. https://www.nsca-lift.org/Perform/articles/03016.pdf. Accessed Sept. 15, 2010.
- Anderson CA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 16, 2010.
- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 16, 2010.