The All-In-One Guide to Safety for Cold-Weather Exercising


Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising. You don’t need to join a gym or only do activity indoors. There are plenty of people who will venture outside in the snow and wet weather to take advantage of the freedom that Mother Nature offers.

However, there are dangers. You may have thought exercising in the cold weather wasn’t safe because of how slippery the paths can get. Some people worry about getting too cold.

As long as you take some precautions and follow safety advice, it is absolutely fine to exercise in the cold weather. Here’s your all-in-one guide to safety for cold-weather exercising. It’s time to take advantage of the weather throughout the year.

Talk to Your Doctor First

The majority of people can exercise in the cold without any issues. If you’re a healthy adult, you shouldn’t actually need to speak to your doctor at all. However, you may want to discuss an exercise regime if you’re returning to exercise after a recent bad illness, an injury, or after a long period of time.

If you suffer from another medical condition, talk to your doctor before you start exercising. There is a chance that you will aggravate your condition from the cold. Those with Raynaud’s disease or asthma are the most likely people to suffer from health problems when exercising in the cold. If you have heart problems, you will also want to make sure you’re ready for the conditions outside. Your doctor may want to prescribe specific medications because of your condition.

Those who have suffered an injury may have a physical therapist. Discuss your options for exercising in the cold. You will likely get a list of exercises to start with and build your durability up.

Brush Up on Your Medical Knowledge

Many people think that because they’re exercising, they won’t suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. After all, you’re keeping your blood pumping and you’re sweating, so you must be too hot. Surprisingly, more people suffer from health conditions while exercising in the cold than necessary, often because they don’t know the signs and don’t take precautions to look after themselves.

Make sure you brush up on the knowledge of both frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is more likely to affect your nose first. It may affect your fingers and toes if you don’t have the right clothing covering the extremities. Those with conditions like Raynaud’s are more likely to suffer from frostbite than those without in a shorter space of time. The ears and cheeks can also be affected.

Frostbite will usually appear as a numbness within the affected area first. You’ll then start losing your feeling and you can get a stinging sensation in the areas. It’s important to take care of the situation right away. If you leave the symptoms for too long, the blood flow back to the areas of the body will be difficult to pick up.

Don’t put your fingers straight into the hot water. You run the risk of burning your hands, even if the water isn’t at boiling point. Lukewarm and then warm water will be enough to help improve the flow of the blood in the extremities.

Avoid rubbing the affected area if you suspect frostbite. The skin becomes dry and damaged and you can make it worse by rubbing. If you can’t get the feeling back, you’ll need to seek medical treatment immediately.

As for hypothermia, the most likely reason to suffer is that you’ve been working out in cold temperatures in a damp atmosphere. If you run in the rain or snow, your body is likely to lose heat extremely quickly. While exercising, the loss of the body heat is a problem. You lose more than your body can produce. Most healthy adults shouldn’t have a problem, but children and older adults need to be dressed appropriately.

Hypothermia starts with the feeling of being cold. There will be intense shivering and some fatigue. You may experience loss of coordination and slurred speech. As the hypothermia gets worse, you will actually stop shivering. The shivering action is your muscles attempting to generate heat. When you stop shivering, it’s a sign that you are at a dangerous level.

The best thing to do is protect against both frostbite and hypothermia. While looking out for the symptoms, you’ll also want to take steps to prevent them even occurring. This is more than just dressing right. You want to start by planning your route and your exercise routine.

Take the Wind Chill into Account

Start by looking at the temperature outside. You don’t just want to look at the recorded temperature, but also the wind chill. This will give you what it really feels like when you’re outside.  The temperature outside may be classed as -10C but the wind chill can take it down to -15C without warning.

You’ll also want to look at the weather forecast. Is there a chance that it will rain or snow while you’re out? What’s the moisture in the air like? This will help determine if you’re at a higher risk of developing either frostbite or hypothermia.

If the temperatures are about -15C (when the wind chill is taken into account), the risk of developing frostbite is less than 5%. However, that risk increases the more than that the wind chill causes the temperatures to drop. At -28C it’s possible for frostbite to start developing within 30 minutes on any exposed skin. You want to make sure you have as little exposed as possible while exercising.

When it’s raining or snowing, you’ll want to hold off on training outside, unless you have good waterproof gear. Getting wet is a recipe for disaster while exercising, as there’s the risk that you won’t keep your core temperature up. Sometimes you won’t know if the rain or snow is actually going to come in, so you may want to take the risk. Stick to a route nearby, so you can get indoors and changed as soon as possible to stay protected.

Now you’ve decided to exercise outside, it’s time to dress appropriately.

Make Sure You Get a Thermal Base Layer

The cold will eat through most of your layers. You want a base layer that’s thermal and ready for the temperatures that come your way. A long-sleeved top paired with long leggings is essential. Most sports stores will have good brands and quality stocked as it gets closer to the winter, so make sure you stock up on your options.

Opt for a synthetic layer. Cotton won’t soak in the sweat and leave you feeling damper than you need. This layer will also lead to your body temperature dropping quicker than it should. With synthetic, you will draw the dampness from the skin and away from the body, helping to keep your body temperature more balanced.

Use layers on the way up to make sure you lock in the heat inside and help to protect your skin from the damp and wet air. You don’t need multiple T-shirts to keep you warm. A wool or fleece layer is the next best option to help create an insulating layer. Top it off with a waterproof that is made of breathable material. You want to help the air come in and escape to manage your body temperature and avoid overheating; yes it really is possible to overheat if you don’t have the right clothing!

The exact type of jacket will depend on the type of workout you’re doing. Think carefully about this, following some of our tips later on in this all-in-one guide.

Don’t Forget about Your Hands, Feet, Head, and Ears

Remember that your ears, hands, and feet are more likely to suffer from frostbite, after your nose. Your head is also where you’ll lose the majority of your heat. So with that in mind, you want to make sure the areas are protected as much as possible.

Let’s start with the hands. Get some glove liners with a synthetic material. They’re your base layer for your hands. Then you can put heavier gloves or mitts over the top to help lock in the heat within your hands. As you start getting sweaty, there’s nothing wrong with taking your gloves off, but keep the liner on.

Don’t run with fingerless gloves! Your fingertips are highly likely to suffer from the cold, especially when it’s below the -15C mark!

As for the toes, you’ll want to use some thermal socks. This can mean getting a different pair of running shoes for your winter workout. Your feet will get cold, even if you have your normal socks and shoes on. You’ll want something that helps to protect your toes! If you don’t want thicker thermal socks, look at wearing two pairs of socks. The downside is they can lead to rubbing and cause some blisters, so you’ll need to see what works for your feet.

For your head, make sure you have a hat. This is non-negotiable. If you’re really not going to wear a hat, then a headband for your ears is a must. However, remember how much heat you’re going to lose your head. The heat rises! Getting a hat made of the breathable material is perfect to keep the air circulating, so you don’t overheat.

Always Wear Reflective Clothing

Even if you’re exercising in the middle of the day, you’ll want to wear reflective clothing. You never know what will happen and it starts to get dark very early in the winter. You’ll need to make sure people can see you at all times.

You can get a thermal vest that is easily placed over your jacket. This won’t cause any problems for waterproofing on your outer layer and won’t create a problem when it comes to breathable material. If you don’t want the vest, consider using reflective strips on your legs and around your wrists. Having something on your hat is also a good idea.

If you’re biking in the winter, make sure your bike also has reflectors. You’ll also want to invest in lights, both on the front and back. There are mixed opinions over whether flashing or solid lights are good for the bike. Work with your own preference.

Remember the Sunscreen!

One thing that many people forget all about is sunscreen. After all, why would you need this in the middle of winter? The sun is behind the clouds most of the time, right?

Well, winter sun is still a problem and you can get sunburned from it. This usually happens due to the glare off the snow and ice. The beams intensify and multiply, making it more likely that your skin is affected. You want to wear sunscreen that blocks both types of US rays and wear a lip balm with sunscreen to protect your lips.

It’s also important to remember a pair of sunglasses (or dark goggles if you’re skiing). The sun will bounce from the snow and create a brighter glare than normally experienced in the summer. This can be extremely damaging to the eyes.

Consider Extra Fluids and a Hand Warmer

Many people forget how hot they can get when working out since it’s cold outside. Your body is still going to sweat and this will still hydrate you, just like it does in the summer. You can end up more dehydrated because of the extra layers. Even people who are hypothermic can suffer from dehydration.

Make sure you remain hydrated throughout your workout. Drink water before the workout and take one with you on the way around.

It’s much harder to notice dehydration in the cold. You want to be safe rather than sorry.

As well as fluids, consider a hand warmer. You can get a chemical heat pack or a small device that holds the heat through a battery. This is often recommended for those who suffer from Raynaud’s disease.

Limit Your Exercise Outdoors

Think about the type of exercise you’re going to do outside. You want to limit the amount of interval training you do in the colder level. You are more at risk of developing hypothermia when you interval train because you work up a sweat and then suddenly go colder when you get your heart rate back down. This cycle can be dangerous to the internal body temperature.

Make sure you plan your route before you go out. Know where you’ll be and what you’ll do. It’s also important to let someone know that you’re going exercise. Give them your route and let them know the time you expect to complete your exercise program. If something happens, your friends or family members will know where you planned to go, so they can look for you. Don’t deviate from this route for any reason!

It’s also important to have your phone with you. This is just good in practice whatever the weather. You never know what will happen, so you want to remain contactable at all times.

Look After Yourself and Be Ready

Exercising in the cold weather is something that you can do, but you need to look after your body. Make sure you’re prepared for the changes in temperature and know the signs of danger to look out for. You’ll then be ready whatever the situation.

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