Baby, it’s cold outside, really cold but Vikki Armstrong, owner of Beyond Fitness in St. Joseph, (which she describes as a fully integrated system to improve quality of life, whether that means fitness training, weight management, recovery from an illness or disability), doesn’t let the temperature hold her back.
“I think it’s really important to get outside, not just in the summer but year round,” she says. “I love running outside when it’s snowing when it’s quiet, that to me is like heaven. I really enjoy snowshoeing in Grand Mere. There’s so much energy we get from being outside. We live in one of the most beautiful areas of the world—the beaches, the hiking trails, the parks, the water—you get so much from the sunshine and fresh air, nature, just to be outside, to be free.”
When Armstrong, a Brit and award-winning triathlete and a modern pentathlete (she runs, swims, fences, rides horseback and shoots in one competitive event) who would have gone to the Olympics --- except that when she was at the tip top of her game, the event wasn't available for women --- talks about fitness, I listen.
OK. Then add to her accolades the fact that she is one of 50 health and fitness people invited to a global conference hosted by Haylie Pomroy author of the bestseller, The Fast Metabolism Diet Book: Eat More Food and Lose More Weight. Pomroy has asked Armstrong to translate her book into British English, a whole different language from American English.
“There’s an English saying that there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes,” Armstrong says, as she begins to elucidate about surviving, thriving and staying active in outdoors in cold weather. “If you’re outside you need layers which let your skin breathe. You don’t want to sweat when you’re outside in the cold because that will make you colder." The athletic industry, she says, has done an amazing job of creating clothing that worn in layers will keep you warm.
Armstrong notes the importance of making sure, despite the cold weather, that if you are working out, you are drinking plenty of water.
“One of the things about being outside in the cold is people don’t realize how dehydrated they are,” she says. “If you’re dehydrated going into an activity, you’re really going to be dehydrated during and afterwards. As a population we’re not great at staying hydrated.”
Water is important inside and outside the body, she explains.
“Hydrating, hydrating, hydrating,” says Kelly Ross, an aesthetician and cosmetic coordinator in St. Joseph, when asked what she thinks is the most important aspect of protecting your skin from being rough and chapped. “Green tea is a great anti-oxidant for cold weather."
For more extreme cases of chapping, Ross says microdermabrasion can be effective for refreshing complexions. Also good are skin peels and facial scrubs.
“By removing dead skin, microdermabrasion helps moisturizing products get through,” she explains. “Besides that everyone should wear sunscreen every day of the year. People don’t realize how the sun impacts our skin even on cloudy days. Zinc-based sunscreens don’t break down as quickly and they can have an anti-aging factor too.”
While good winter cardio activities include cross-country skiing, walking with friends, walking the dog, shoveling, ice-skating, snowshoeing and building a snow fort with your kids counts too.
Chris Wagner, membership director at Renaissance Athletic Center in Benton Harbor, cautions that temperature matters and always check the weather channel before venturing outdoors.
“Around the Lake temperatures can change fast,” he says. “Exposed skin can become damaged within minutes when temperatures shoot down into the negative range. Cover your head with a hat. That helps keep heat contained around your head and always wear gloves to keep your blood flowing and circulating.”
The right foods are also key.
“Eating well-balanced meals can help you stay warmer and hydrated and you can drink hot tea or hot chocolate to keep your body warm,” says Wagner.
“When you’re going to be doing outside activities, take a handful of nuts and dried fruit that doesn’t have extra sugar in it,” says Armstrong. “You can also take ingredients for a protein shake and mix it with water when outdoors.”
Nutrition is important in other ways, whether outside or inside.
“I think our American psyche is that we’re going to run out of milk and chocolate tomorrow, so we have to have it all today but that’s not the mentality we should have,” says Armstrong. “I always preach that you cannot out- train bad diets. If you are putting bad fuel into your body you’ll never get it out by exercising. That’s why now, when we’re susceptible to cold and flu because of the weather, it’s good to start the new year off with a clean diet: healthy non-processed foods. Just avoid all those edibles loaded with salt, sugar and fat.”
Forget about St. Bernard dogs bearing casks filled with brandy to revitalize victims lost in mountain snowdrifts though. Taking a shot or two of Jägermeister to warm-up when you're outdoors is not a good idea either. According To Rick Johansen, M.D., medical director for Berrien County Health Department, one key to well-being in cold weather is to avoid alcohol before going outside.
Though, you may feel a little warmed because of an increased blood flow to the skin, you are actually losing heat and encouraging hypothermia. Hypothernia will happen a lot faster, he says. Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion, dizziness, uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and exhaustion. These are signs of decreased blood flow to the brain and a prelude to organ failurel.”
For people who’ve spent a lot of time outdoors when the temperature is below freezing, Flora Kamala, a registered nurse who lives in Stevensville, recommends checking for signs of frost nip and frostbite.
The most likely areas for cold weather damage occur where there’s less body mass and blood flow. The extremeties---fingers, noses, toes, cheeks, chin and ears are the most vulnerable parts of the body and also the most likely to be exposed to wind chill and cold. Frostnip is the precursor to frostbite and is a warning to get someplace warm fast. Symptoms include a lightly painful, prickly or itching sensation, shivering, numbness and redness of the skin. When frostnip advances to frostbite, the skin may turn white, pale or grayish-yellow in color and be firm or waxy to the touch.
Overexertion when outdoors can cause sweating says Captain Rockey Adams, Berrien County’s emergency management coordinator, which in turn, causes the body to chill and be even more susceptible to hypothermia. To protect yourself when outdoors in the cold, layer loose- fitting clothes and then cover with a waterproof parka or jacket. Be sure to keep dry and if you are cross-country skiing or running in extremely cold weather, take along dry socks and clothing in case you get wet. And be sure to change wet clothes for dry ASAP."