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Winter Exercise, It’s Not Just for Polar Bears Anymore

By Dr. Stuart Offer, Wellness Coach & Educator, Hickok & Boardman HR Intelligence

Here we are in the thick of winter where the weather can truly challenge your motivation to exercise.  If you are like most, your instinct is to get a stack of books and curl up beside the wood stove.  Now, don’t think for a minute that just because the temperatures outside is dipping to levels that would make a penguin smile you no longer need to get your body moving. Need some motivation to get outside and get active?  How about losing those extra 5 to 10 pounds you packed on over the holidays?  Getting started now will help you prevent the need to scramble to get in shape for swimsuit season. In addition, outdoor exercise is a sure cure for cabin fever and the winter blues. Besides the usual warm weather activities, winter weather provides a multitude of opportunities for you to participate in; unique outdoor experiences that are a heck of a lot of fun. 

At this point you may be wondering, is it safe to exercise in the severe cold?  Well, the good news, or the bad news, is you can exercise safely for hours in severe cold as long as you follow a few rules.  Dr. Castellani, a lead author of a 2006 position paper from the American College of Sports Medicine on exercising in the cold, came to the conclusion “it is never too cold to exercise.”  Let’s face it, people go to the North and South Poles and do incredible things where temperatures can reach minus 50 degrees below zero.

Here is what you need to know in order to keep you safe and having fun:

  • The two most dangerous conditions that can result from cold weather exposure are frostbite and hypothermia, both easily avoided.  Frostbite is most common on your face, ears, fingers and toes. Early warning signs include paleness, numbness and loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. If you suspect frostbite, get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area without rubbing. If numbness continues, seek emergency care. Hypothermia is characterized by intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue — get emergency help right away. To help prevent problems know when to head for home.
  • While staying warm is important, it is just as important to stay dry.  Try not to overdress, which may cause you to overheat. One mistake winter exercisers do is wearing too much clothing.  A good rule of thumb: If you are already feeling warm when you first step out to exercise, it is likely you are overdressed.
  • Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to heat up and sweat and then put back on as needed. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene or polyester which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Second layer, try fleece for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer.  
  • Cover your head and extremities.