As the days are becoming shorter, every morning the news, the radio, weather.com, and our iPhones or other mobile devices give us colder and colder temperatures as we head out the door. For some of us, the frosty air is a welcome change and for others already looking forward to the summer sun, the brutal July/August heat is a distant memory. With that said, there are several things to keep in mind to safely navigate the upcoming blustery winter days.
Though there are a number of risks you may face while heading out the door for a walk or run this upcoming winter, the possibility of your lungs freezing or sustaining any damage due to the chillier temperatures will not be one of them! The body has a remarkable ability to very efficiently and rapidly warm and humidify the air you breathe, regardless of the temperatures, such that it is at body temperature by the time it reaches your lungs. Having said that however, it has been observed that many people have developed either exercise induced asthma or a dry cough during or after a workout, both of which have been attributed not to the cold temperatures but to the typically drier, less humid air quality of reduced temperatures. For those of you who have experienced this, using either a scarf, a neck warmer, or a balaclava (face mask) over your mouth and nose will help to trap your natural water vapor when you breathe and will possibly work to reduce this problem.
In the same way that dressing appropriately is crucial during hot weather, it is equally if not more important when the temperatures are cold. Just as wearing moisture wicking fabrics is more comfortable when it is hot, it is also important in the cold weather, as remaining dry is critical when exercising in colder temperatures. As your body temperature increases during your workout, it is also important to dress in multiple lighter layers such that you can remove individual layers to easily adapt to changing temperatures. Avoid dressing in fewer but heavy layers as removing a single piece may be too much but equally uncomfortable if not removed. In addition to keeping your body warm, it is also crucial to keep your hands, head, ears, and feet warm by wearing wind-proof or wind-resistant gloves or mittens, a hat or headband, and wool socks (or thicker socks) as well as Gore-Tex or water/wind resistant shoes to keep your feet dry. These areas are not only easily susceptible to frostbite, but a large percentage of body heat is quickly lost via your extremities as well.
As the temperatures drop, the days are becoming shorter, the nights longer, all of which means more workouts in the dark. When it comes to being safe, fashion should not be an issue as there is no such thing as being too visible. Though most pieces of running apparel have some reflectivity, it is generally insufficient and should be supplemented with a separate and more highly visible reflective piece, typically a vest of some type. A reflective vest is generally more beneficial when there is a lot of ambient light around and more traffic on the road. In darker locations with less neighborhood and city lights, wearing any number of flashing LED lights on both your back and front will also help to increase visibility as it will capture the driver’s attention. For your own benefit, wearing a headlamp will help you to see where you are going and also serves to further increase your visibility to drivers.
Cold weather usually means ice and snow. Watch where you’re going and if necessary, invest in a pair of ice cleats to attach to your running shoes to avoid slipping and getting injured. Just as the ice and snow are dangerous to run on, watch moving vehicles around you as out of control vehicles on the ice and snow are dangerous for everyone on the road.
A few last notes, an appropriate warm-up is beneficial regardless of the temperatures as it will not only help to gently stretch you muscles and increase blood flow, but will also put you in the right frame of mind to get the most out of your workout safely and efficiently. Warming up indoors when it is chilly out will also help to make for a less frigid transition, as you will have a higher body temperature when stepping out the door. Finally, as always, be sure to stay well hydrated!
Stay Warm – Stay Safe – and Enjoy the Great and Cold Outdoors!
- What to Wear and How to Prepare for Cold Weather Running (walkingrunning.suite101.com)