Cold Weather Savvy: Exercising Outdoors Safely

There is no need to get cabin fever during the cold months. Exercising outdoors in the winter can be exhilarating, and if you plan ahead, safe.

To have fun and be safe you will naturally monitor your glucose levels, be prepared for diabetic emergencies, have an OK from your doctor to exercise outdoors, and possess some cold weather savvy.

Here are some safety suggestions for enjoying physical activity in cold weather.

About Wind Chill

Always check the temperature, moisture, and wind conditions for the time you plan to be outside,paying special attention to the wind chill index – the combination of wind speed and air temperature. Even skin warmed by exercise is vulnerable to frostbite when a cold wind penetrates clothing.

Did you know?

  • When the air temperature is above 5 degrees Fahrenheit the risk of frostbite is low (less than five percent), without wind. The chance of frostbite increases significantly as the wind chill reading falls.
  • Frostbite can affect exposed skin in a half hour or less at wind chill levels below minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

So consider exercising indoors when the thermometer reads below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or when the wind chill is severe. Remember that we are more susceptible to the effects of cold when our clothing is dampened by rain or snow.

Dress to Peel

People may dress too warmly for cold weather workouts. As the body heats up, the evaporation of sweat can leave an overdressed exerciser feeling chilled. That is why those in the know recommend dressing in layers that can be peeled off as the body warms and reapplied as it cools.

Did you know?

  • The first layer of clothing should be a material that draws moisture away from the body. This means cotton is a poor first layer choice while a thin layer made of synthetic material, such a polypropylene, is a wise one.
  • A second layer should be made of insulating fabric such as wool or fleece, followed by a third layer that is waterproof and breathable. Thin folks may need an extra layer of insulation. Wearing a hat that keeps the ears covered is also a plus. As the temperature drops, consider wearing a scarf or mask to protect your face.
  • Fingers, toes, and exposed skin are especially vulnerable to frostbite. Consider wearing thin moisture-wicking liners beneath insulated mittens or gloves. The outer glove can be removed when the hands sweat and replaced when the hands begin to cool. By buying exercise shoes a half-size too big, it is easy to put on extra regular socks.

Though it may go without saying, make sure the traction on your shoes can handle the terrain you exercise on, remember to wear reflective clothing after the sun sets, and use the recommended safety equipment for your sport of choice.

Watch out for Overexposure

Early warning signs of frostbite (freezing) are a stinging sensation, loss of feeling, or numbness. Indications of hypothermia, or a dangerously low body temperature, are tiredness, loss of coordination, extreme shivering, and slurry speech.

Did you know?

  • Skin damaged by frostbite should never be rubbed. First-aid treatment is to get out of the cold right away and warm the affected skin gradually. If symptoms continue, get emergency care.
  • Exercising in wet, cold weather increases the possibility of hypothermia, and the risk of hypothermia increases with age. Older adults need to be especially careful.
  • People can become just as dehydrated or sunburned by working out in cold weather as in hot. Drink plenty of fluids before and after exercising in winter weather, and wear a UVA and UVB blocking sunscreen when exercising in high altitudes or around snow.

Consider using chemical heat packs for hands or feet if you tend to have icy fingers or toes and dark glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from ice and snow glare.

One More Tip

Before heading out, let someone know the route you plan to take and when you expect to return. You will not want to be left out in the cold should anything go wrong.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Ron Foreman/ flickr creative commons

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