Texas experienced record low temperatures in February which kept many Central Texans indoors without power and food. While this weather event was far from normal, Texas winters can be frigid. Board certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Smith recently shared advice on exercising outdoors in the cold on The List. He believes “with some preparation and planning,” exercising in the cold can not only “improve the ‘winter blues,'” but also avoid “put[ting] on the winter 15 pounds.”
How does the body react to the cold?
“Cold temperatures typically slow down metabolic activity and muscle/nervous activity of the body. Therefore, a longer warm-up period and more gradual increase in demands are required,” Dr. Smith explains.
Dr. Smith stresses, “In cold temperatures, the body will be stiffer and require a longer, more gradual progression to ‘normal’ fitness.” But that shouldn’t keep you from conquering your winter fitness goals. He adds, “Typically, enough heat can be generated by muscular contractions to allow exercising even in very cold environments.”
How should you prepare to exercise in the cold?
Dr. Smith advises that “frostbite and hypothermia are concerns with exercise in extremely low temps.” Dressing appropriately is key to preventing injuries. He suggests gloves and warmer socks and shoes to protect against frostbite, and layers are best so the exact protective needs can be fine-tuned as intensity of work and body heat production changes.
Dr. Smith adds “a significant amount of heat loss is through the head and neck. Wearing a hat or beanie is a great way to preserve heat.”
And don’t think just because it’s cold out, you don’t need to drink as much water.
Dr. Smith says, “Cold air is typically drier than warm air and when it is inhaled it must be warmed and humidified.” He explains, “The ‘fog’ you see on exhalation is water loss and must be replaced. Fluid intake should, as with all exercise, match loss through sweat and respiration.”
Are there benefits of exercising in the cold?
Dr. Smith says there is no large benefit to exercising in cold environments. “Different activities have optimum temperatures. Some cold weather activities burn more calories, but the improved heat loss can decrease calorie burn, so exact efficiency varies with activity type and temperature,” Dr. Smith states. He also says it’s important to keep in mind that “swimming or working out in rain or windy conditions also increases heat loss and can be more dangerous.”
Dr. Smith stresses that with the proper information and planning, you can “stay active and maintain [and] improve your fitness levels” through the cold winter months. He advises that you should take frequent breaks to assess the effect of temperature on your exercise or to fine tune clothing.
To read the entire article on The List, click here.