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The Weather Outside is Frightful

Well, the weather outside is frightful, but it doesn’t have to wreck the exercise routine you’ve been enjoying since the spring, even if you prefer to exercise outside.  Of course, as always, there are guidelines to follow when exercising outside in extreme weather.

Frostbite, earaches, lowered immunity, and hypothermia are all very undesirable and very avoidable consequences of over-exposure to the cold.  That makes dressing appropriately the first step to preparing for safe winter exercise.  The first rule to dressing appropriately is to layer.  You’ve probably heard it before, and it may seem like common sense, but it warrants repeating.  Even though you will warm up with exercise, starting out in frigid weather wearing shorts is not a good idea.  One of the problems with not dressing warmly is that your muscles will have a very hard time getting warm, meaning that they will not be as elastic as they should be, making you more prone to injury.  Another problem is that your body will expend a significant amount of energy trying to keep you warm, leaving you without the energy for an optimal workout.  So, start your workout with ample muscle coverage, but don’t overdo it with the clothes.  Unless you are biking with a backpack, or have disposable clothing, it will be difficult to peel off layers that will then have to be carried for the remainder of the workout.  So the challenge is to find the balance between dressing conservatively and dressing warmly enough.  And remember, that sweating is a normal side effect of exercise.  Don’t start de-robing just because you start sweating.  Remember that if you were exercising in warmer weather you would welcome sweat as a sign of a good workout.

Another important step when preparing for outdoor exercise is determining the severity of the exterior conditions.  And the best way to do that is to go outside.  That may sound obvious, but many people get dressed in their warm home and run outside to immediately start their exercise.  Three minutes of exposure can help you decide if you are dressed appropriately, and it is probably better to do that in your back yard instead of a block away from your house.  So, I recommend that you go outside in the clothes you have opted to wear and move around for a few minutes to make sure you’re dressed warmly enough.  Swing your arms and turn in a circle to make sure the cool air doesn’t sneak in through any gaps in your outfit.  Remember to shake your head to make sure your ears are protected – too much cold air in your ears can lead to earaches.  Also, take several deep breaths, noticing how the cold air feels on your throat, your nose, and your lungs.  If it is painful to breathe deeply, I recommend wearing a scarf or a turtleneck that will cover your nose and mouth, warming the air you inhale.   Open and close your hands and wave them through the air to make sure that you won’t wish for warmer gloves.  Also, remember that the majority of our body heat is lost through the top of our heads, so decide if a hat is needed.  Notice if the wind is blowing, if it is cloudy, or if the sun is shining brightly.  Then go back inside and change your clothes if necessary.

A third thing to keep in mind for safe winter exercise is that the sun sets much earlier now than it used to.  If you choose an evening or late afternoon workout, remember to make yourself visible to the passing cars.  Wear light colored clothes, or wear an orange safety vest with reflectors over your clothes.  It’s also a good idea to make sure that your shoes have reflector strips on the heels.

And as always, if you choose to exercise inside where it’s warm, you will have multiple options to keep you fit – treadmills, stationary bikes, indoor pools, etc…  See if your neighborhood gym offers a three or six month membership, or buy some equipment for your home – you may find a use for it again when the summer heat is at its worst.

Whether spring, summer, fall, or winter, maintaining an exercise routine is all about making it a priority.  If exercise is truly one of your priorities, the dropping temperatures won’t stop you from completing your workout.  It doesn’t matter if you do it inside or outside – as long as you’re exercising safely let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!