Dont let the winter months slow your workout. Equip yourself properly both inside and out and you can stay in the groove.
Are you a dedicated workout warrior who never lets cold weather halt your routine? Or does the first onset of winter send you straight into hibernation? Whatever your preference, you can still be active and also stay safe, warm and dry.
Cold weather 101
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, asthma or bronchitis, always check with your doctor before cold-weather exercise. Once you have the go-ahead, follow these strategies for creating and maintaining your own little microclimate.
Dress in layers
Always layer workout gear to stay warm and dry. When you dress in layers, air gets trapped between the articles of clothing, creating additional thermal insulation. Damp garments draw heat away from the body, but layers will help keep your innermost garments dry. Dressing in layers also provides easy flexibility, allowing you to remove garments if you become too sweaty and then put them back on if you get a chill.
Wicking inner layer: Choose lightweight, synthetic (polypropylene or polyester) stretch fabrics that wick moisture and allow ease of movement. Fit should be snug without constriction.
Insulating mid layer: Select wool or synthetic fibers that retain body warmth;small air pockets in these materials trap molecules of warm air. Fit should be snug and non-constricting.
Wind/water-resistant outer layer: For dry conditions, a lightweight soft shell provides warmth, breathability and wind resistance. For more severe weather, choose a waterproof laminate shell that allows water vapor to escape.
Protect head, hands and feet
Cold weather and dampness can reduce blood flow to your extremities. As your body experiences a chill, it draws blood back toward its core to help keep vital organs functioning and to fight against hypothermia. When this happens, less blood is flowing to your head, hands and feet, leaving them especially vulnerable to frostbite.
Head and ears: Choose an insulating thermal beanie or hat with earflaps. Create a small space between your face and scarf to keep in warm moisture.
Hands: Wear breathable, water-resistant shells over regular gloves.
Feet: Choose wicking socks that pull moisture away from feet.
Stability gear: On icy terrain, wear stabilizing rubber strap-on metal cleats over running shoes. For overall stability when walking or hiking, use walking poles.
Sunscreen and hydration
An increase in reflective light (UV rays) from snow can cause you to burn faster, so follow the same sunscreen rules as for summer. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher, and make sure to apply it to every part of your body that will be exposed during any prolonged outdoor activities. Drier winter air can accelerate dehydration, so plan on consuming two cups of water per hour for aerobic walks an hour or longer.
Indoor exercise options
If the thought of braving the elements gives you an easy excuse to skip a workout, consider the following exercise alternatives to maintain your healthy lifestyle.
At home: Workout videos, exercising with video games, stair climbing, vigorous housework, calisthenics, free weights and exercise machines are all great options for getting a workout without ever leaving the house
Outside the home: Community centers, a YMCA and/or health club/gym can provide a structured group setting that may help keep you motivated
At work: Employer involvement with an on-site health club or classes, membership discounts at gyms and challenges between departments (office relay races, etc.) can create team-building opportunities while promoting corporate wellness initiatives.
Social interaction with friends, partners, spouses, neighbors and co-workers also can make exercise more fun, as well as reinforce and boost your motivation. Whether you and a buddy love to hike in the great outdoors or stay warm inside with a workout video, you can definitely exercise your options throughout these cold winter months!
Dr. Delia Roberts, Ph.D., FACSM (Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine), is an instructor in the Biology and Worksite Health Promotion programs at Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC, Canada. Dr. Roberts received her doctorate in Medical Science (specialization: Exercise Biochemistry) from the University of Calgary, is a winner of three scientific congress awards for outstanding scientific research and is President and Chief Research Scientist of FitSAFE Solutions Inc.