By Yilyn Chen
With winter in full swing, the circumstances of the pandemic have left us with no choice but to embrace the cold, frigid weather. Finding indoor places to exercise have become more difficult, as numerous gyms have closed or are running at limited capacity. But we still have one obvious option: braving the cold! The outdoors has become our best and safest option to socially distance from others, while still allowing us to fit in a workout and maybe even follow a slight semblance of a normal routine.
In fact, exercising in the winter may offer additional benefits, as opposed to exercising in the summertime heat. Some doctors have said that exercising in cold weather may improve your endurance, as your heart doesn’t have to expend as much energy and you sweat less in colder temperatures, thus making your exercise more efficient. Some other studies have found that exercising in cold weather may even transform white fat, the fat that may lead to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, into brown, calorie-burning fat.
While exercising outdoors during the winter is more accessible than going to an indoor gym, there are still risks to beware of when making the trek out in below 30 degree weather. The two most important things to look out for when exercising in the cold are the risks of hypothermia and frostbite. With the former, the body reaches a temperature less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and shivering to maintain homeostasis may cease. Frostbite is also especially dangerous because it can cause permanent damage to the body, with the skin, nerves, and tissue being common sites of injury. To combat these risks of exercising in the cold, there are many easy and effective precautions to take so that you can enjoy your run in the sunny, yet frosty weather.
Some people make the mistake of dressing too warmly to exercise in the cold; we know that exercising generates a good amount of heat, which tricks the body into thinking it is warm enough to produce sweat. However, the evaporation of this sweat will then quickly cool down your body again, pulling heat away from the body. Make sure to wear multiple layers that are easy to take off when you sweat too much, but that are also easy to put back on when needed. Frostbite may occur in less than thirty minutes if your skin is exposed, especially on the extremities such as your hands, feet, nose, and ears. In short, always make sure to wear gloves, hats, and good socks.
In the cold, your body’s normal metabolic processes, such as the nervous system’s ability to generate muscle contractions, slow down, leaving your body at greater risk for muscle injury and strain. Some easy and effective dynamic stretches to practice before exercising include arm circles, arm swings, lunges, and high knees. Do this for five to ten minutes, and you’ll be ready to venture out into the cold, injury-risk free!
Because normal chemical processes slow down when exercising in the cold, the body fatigues faster and requires more nutrients and energy. Make sure to eat something, whether that’s a protein bar or a peanut-butter sandwich, so you feel ready and energized to expend yourself! Staying hydrated is also a necessity, especially in the cold. It may feel as though you don’t need to quench your thirst as much, but you can become dehydrated easily from sweating, breathing, and from the sheer force of the frigid winter wind. Prepare for this by drinking plenty of water or sports drinks before, during, and after exercising!
Finally, end your workout with a jog or walk to cool down and gradually slow your breathing and heart rate before re-entering warm air, as coughing or spasms may be induced without proper readjustment. Additionally, stretching after exercise is just as important as warming up; stretching your muscles, limbs, and joints while they’re still warm can reduce the buildup of lactic acid, thus preventing muscle strains, cramps, or stiffness. Make sure to cool down so you’ll be charged up and ready to go for your next winter workout!
Of course, beware of temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit and wind chills that reach -17 degrees Fahrenheit, as exercising in such frigid conditions can be very dangerous. Otherwise, rest assured that finding ways to exercise doesn’t have to be a challenge in the winter time. By taking certain precautions before embarking out into the frosty winter temperatures, you will still be able to maintain a safe and effective exercise routine. So what are you waiting for? Get up, put on a mask, and go enjoy a safe, COVID-friendly workout!