Cold Weather Fitness Concerns
For many of us, exercise in the cold weather is a very depressing proposition, and done incorrectly, it can be actively dangerous. Is there a good way to maintain your fitness goals and work toward a solution that will allow you to make progress without being shunted out by Old Man Winter?
The biggest factor for exercising in the cold is hypothermia, or too much heat loss. Any exercise in a cold environment begs the question, how much body heat am I going to lose as a result of this effort? Heat loss can be controlled through proper insulation, consisting of body fat plus proper winter clothing, as well as environmental factors such as temperature, wind and the overall weather conditions that you are exercising in. Any and all of these factors play a role in your body’s ability to maintain a comfortable temperature.
Insulation means body fat, at least partially, and while most of us aspire to a lean body shape, folks with a little body fat are in better shape when it comes to warding off the cold. Clothing adds a barrier to that insulation, and may be the most important element in performance and comfort while exercising in the cold. Heat loss from the head alone may account for as much as 50 percent at the freezing mark, and simply pulling on a hat may mean the difference in your ability to remain outside for longer periods of time.
Clothing is a good insulator because it traps air and is generally a poor conductor of heat. If the air trapped by the clothing cannot conduct heat away from the body, then temperature will be maintained. Water however, is a rapid conductor of heat and as a result, sweat allows for a great deal of heat loss from the body.
Layered clothing is ideal in that it provides the ability to change the amount of the insulation that is needed. Avoid heavy cotton sweats or tightly woven material that will absorb and maintain water, as these materials do not provide a layer of dry air near the skin.
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Be Careful When Temps Drop
You also want to keep your hands and feet warm when exercising in the cold. Lower temps cause the blood to shunt away from the extremities, causing them to be more susceptible to the cold. Blood flow will not return to the hands and feet until the temp of the torso is normal or slightly higher.
Always check the air temperature and wind chill factor before conducting any fitness exercise in the cold. Exposed skin means a danger for frostbite, especially when the temp has fallen below freezing.