Don't Shy Away from Exercising in the Cold

By By: Kristen Connolly
12/20/2012 11:13:33 AM

The falling snow as well as the falling temperature might encourage you to take your New Year's resolution to the gym, but don't let winter scare you off from some fresh air. Whether you are training for your next race or trying to improve your health, there are several ways to stay safe and feel good about working out in Mother Nature.

Here are some easy tips to remember:

1) Be careful in the elements. One of the reasons running, biking or snowshoeing outside can be scary are natural obstacles. Pay attention to the surface- black ice, snow and even rain can make conditions slippery. It is also important to pay attention to the wind. The wind can make it feel significantly colder than the actual temperature with more cold penetrating through your clothes. Most exercise professionals suggest heading into the wind, so that the wind is at your back on your return. This will help you stay warmer, since wind will add to more cooling from evaporation when you are wet from sweating.

2) Purchase what you need. This does not mean you need to get a whole new wardrobe. It means that it is best to purchase a few things that may make your life easier. Trail shoes or shoes with traction can help when running in the winter. If biking, your road tires might need to be switched with mountain or ice tires which are better for gaining traction on slippery surfaces. A helmet can be a good idea if skiing. If you will be out for a long length of time snowshoeing or skiing, hand or feet warmers may be helpful.

3) Dress accordingly. A good rule of thumb: dress for 20 degrees warmer than the temperature. It is okay to feel chilly when you first step outside, because you will get warmer after only a few minutes of exercising. Layers work best so you can take off and put on clothes as you continue to workout. The lowest layer should consists of dry-fit or moisture-wicking layer. This will help when you sweat; you don't want to be wet when in the cold. And don't forget about your extremities! In the winter, light gloves, a hat and even thicker socks can be very valuable. They will not only keep you warm (up to 40% of body heat is lost through our head), but they protect you from cold-related injuries, such as frostbite and hypothermia.

4) It is great to shine and reflect. Other people want to see you! Winter means less daylight (one of the reasons our bodies have evolved to want to stay inside). It also means less time to workout under the sun. It is likely you will begin or end your exercise in the dark. Even if it is dusk or dawn, have something reflective on; you want to ensure others can see you.

5) Hydrate, wear sunscreen and have a "can do" attitude! Yes, you can get dehydrated and sunburned in the winter! Wear a sunscreen that has SPF 30 especially in high elevations or around snow, which is highly reflective. They don't tell you to drink at least 64 oz of water a day for nothing. Even if you may think you are not sweating as much... you are! You can still become dehydrated. Stock up on fluids before heading outside and drink water after, even if you are not thirsty. Lastly, you can do it! You see all the braves souls continuing their routine despite the changing seasons. Even if you think they are crazy, give it a try yourself. Most of the feat is psychological rather than physical. Setting goals is a great way to do this. Try to brave the cold one day a week then increase it to two or more. Chances are that once you are correctly prepared, there will be no looking back!