When temperatures drop, it can be tempting to also drop your workout routine that you perfected over the summer.
If you don’t have access to a gym or workout equipment at home, or simply prefer to exercise outdoors, local trainers say being prepared is the key to maintaining a successful workout routine and staying healthy.
Why temperature matters
The No. 1 concern when exercising in the cold is losing too much body heat, otherwise known as hypothermia. Debi Pillarella, a personal trainer and health coach at Community Hospital’s Fitness Pointe, says it’s not good enough to look out the window to see if the conditions look OK.
Instead, she said, exercisers should tune in to a weather channel that states outdoor conditions, including the actual thermometer temperature, wind speed and wind chill factor.
According to the American Council on Exercise, of which Pillarella serves as a spokeswoman and master trainer, there’s little danger if someone is properly dressed and exercising outdoors in temperatures of 20 to 50 degrees.
However, once wind chills hit dangerous temperatures, exercisers should reconsider extended outdoor exposure and take the workout indoors, she said.
“If it’s fairly windy, consider starting the workout going into the wind so you are finishing with the wind at your back,” Pillarella said.
A chart detailing when wind chills become dangerous can be found at acefitness.org.
Why clothing matters
A major key most experts will agree on is making sure you layer up for cold conditions, says Jason Clinton, a fitness trainer at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers.
“A benefit of being physically active or exercising in the cold is that you raise your body temperature in which your body may perceive the weather to be warmer than it actually is,” he said. “You don’t want to cause excessive sweating during your exercise, which will lead to your clothing becoming damp and cause you to become very cold very quickly.”
The advantage of wearing several layers is it gives a person the option to remove clothing if the person becomes too warm, and to add clothing if it starts to get chilly, Clinton said.
Blood flows to the core when exercising, so it’s important to make sure the head, ears, feet and hands are properly covered, he said.
“‘Dri-Fit’ type material is best to wear as a base layer when working out in cold conditions,” Clinton said. “Check the tags to make sure that fabrics are made from silk, wool blends or polypropylene.”
These types of material help “wick” sweat away from the body, keeping a person dry and warm.
“Avoid cotton as it absorbs water and makes you cold by holding your sweat against your skin,” Clinton said.
Why health matters
Two conditions that can greatly affect exercise are asthma and arthritis, and during cold winter months, these conditions can become more of a concern to exercisers, Clinton said.
“It may be a wise decision to not take the risk of being exposed to cold environments while exercising when suffering from these conditions,” he said.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends consulting with a doctor if a person has conditions like heart problems or Raynaud’s disease, which affects blood circulation and can cause some areas of the body, such as fingers and toes, to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures.
Why intake matters
Even though it’s cold, it’s still possible to become dehydrated due to the combination of exercised and layered clothing, Clinton said.
“Also the act of blood moving from the extremities to the core increases urine output, which adds to dehydration,” he said. “Make sure you continue to drink often and before exercise, even in the cold.”
During the winter, prebiotic and probiotic foods help maintain health as well, especially in increasing healthy gut bacteria, Clinton said.
Foods he recommends consuming are asparagus, garlic, leeks, onions, barley, beans, oats, quinoa, rye, potatoes, yams, apples, bananas, berries, citrus, kiwi, flax and chia seeds, yogurt, cheese and kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, soy sauce and wine.
“These foods help the immune system get the nutrients they need to perform optimally,” he said.