Keeping warm when icy winds howl: Winter exercise tips
By Bill Parisi
Now that winter is on the way, we need to prepare for outdoor activities in the cold.
The Record, Bergen County, NJ
One of the first rules to keep in mind is a proper warm-up. Cold weather makes muscles tight — and therefore more vulnerable to tears, pulls, and sprains.
Take ample time to warm up the body slowly before engaging in any intense activity. If you take a break or cool down for more than five minutes after your warm-up, warm up again before resuming.
Don't underestimate the importance of clothing. You lose most of your body heat through your hands and head, so wear light gloves and a wool hat.
Insulate by layering your clothes. The layer closest to the skin should be made of a moisture-wicking material such as polypropylene. Avoid cotton as a first layer, because it will remain wet.
The second layer should be made of a good insulator such as wool or down. The outer layer should be water- and-wind-resistant; a windbreaker jacket or pullover will do the job. You can take it off after your body heat increases.
Some think you don't get an adequate workout in the cold because you don't sweat as much. The truth is your body burns more calories in the cold because core body temperature rises to keep itself warm.
Be aware of post-exercise hypothermia. This is a result of the body reducing its production of heat while rapidly losing its existing heat stores. This can be avoided by adding clothing or quickly seeking a warm environment after completing your workout.
Being cardiovascularly fit provides additional protection during exposure.
It's best to work out during the day, because it's warmer and ice patches are more visible. If you have time to exercise outdoors only in the evening, avoid high-traffic areas and wear reflective clothing.
If you experience cold lungs, wrap a scarf around your face and breathe through it.
Two conditions to which you are most vulnerable are frostbite and hypothermia. Symptoms of both are numbness of the ears, nose, fingers, and toes. Frostbite remains confined to an affected area and should be treated immediately. It is localized freezing of tissue, and occurs during hypothermia.
Hypothermia, which is more systemic, is potentially fatal if not treated immediately. It occurs when the body's core temperature falls below 98.6 degrees. Symptoms include severe lightheadedness to the point of slurred speech, loss of motor skills, and fatigue. A victim may quickly lose consciousness. Hypothermia is exacerbated by high winds and wet clothing.
These conditions are best dealt with by dressing properly, warming up, and getting out of the cold as soon as you've had enough. Do not expose affected areas to extreme heat. The body should be warmed up quickly but not immediately.
Rubbing the frostbitten area or exposing it to extreme heat can cause further damage because the body is in a susceptible state.
Drink a lot of water and stay hydrated. Eat carbohydrates in the cold to quickly stoke your inner fire.
Follow these common-sense tips and your outdoor winter activities will be safe and enjoyable.
Bill Parisi is a nationally recognized expert on fitness, general health, and athletic performance. Parisi welcomes your questions and comments. Write to him in care of Parisi Sports Clubs, 2-22 Banta Place, Fair Lawn, N.J. 07410; visit his Web site at www.billparisi.com; or fax questions to (201) 794-6009.