Keeping Safe While Breaking a Sweat in the Cold

By: KELLY SHERIDAN

Cold weather plays a huge role in the decision of whether or not to exercise. Many a person has procrastinated exercising, staying on the couch for an extra hour or two because it’s “too cold” to venture outside for a walk or go to the gym. Although it is unseasonably warm here in the Northeast this winter, many Americans are still battling harsh winter temperatures. As a result, everyone from avid runners to casual walkers has their exercise routine affected. After all, nobody wants to run or walk in the cold, only to expose themselves to the dangers of sickness and frostbite. Today you will learn how to best protect yourself from the winter elements while exercising outside, and keep safe for the remainder of this cold winter.

For those who enjoy the outdoors, the winter can present many unknown dangers to a previously safe workout routine. Cold, rain, snow, and shortened daylight hours are among the most important factors to consider before heading out for a mid-winter jog. The first and most unavoidable of these is the cold. It is possible to choose to avoid heading out on snowy days, or run mid-day instead of at night, but during the winter you will always be exposed to colder temperatures. Your wardrobe should vary with the temperature. Keep in mind that the longer a run is, the longer you are in motion and the warmer you will be.

Here are recommendations on what to wear outside as the cold gets colder:

  • Mildly cold (40-60 degrees): This is likely warm enough to get away with wearing a single layer of clothing (long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, shorts). In cases where a run will be slow-paced, or where the temperature will be closer to 40 degrees, consider adding an extra layer or hat.
  • Freezing temps (25-39 degrees): Definitely wear two layers in these temperatures. Tights (light or heavy) are recommended, as well as a Coolmax or Thermax long-sleeve shirt. On the colder end of this range, consider putting on a light jacket as well. Don’t forget a hat and gloves!
  • Super cold (10-24 degrees): For freezing temperatures like these, a hat and gloves are a must, and you may want to put a hat on as well. One or two long-sleeved shirts are recommended, and maybe a light jacket for extra protection. Definitely wear tights, and if it’s closer to 10 degrees outside, add a windbreaker-material outer layer.
  • Dedicated Athlete (-9-9 degrees): If you’re out in this weather, good for you! For temperatures like this, put on two long-sleeved shirt layers and a windbreaker. Tights and another optional outer layer are recommended for the legs, and don’t forget a hat and gloves!

You may be wondering why a hat and gloves are so crucial for exercising in wintery temperatures. The reason for this is simple. A great deal of body heat can be lost through the head if it is left uncovered, and wearing a hat will help keep body heat contained. For colder temperatures, an investment in a balaclava is recommended. For those who are unfamiliar with this accessory, a balaclava is headgear, made of cloth, which covers the whole head except for a portion of the face. It is very useful for retaining body hear. The hands and feet are also important to keep covered in the cold, since they are also vulnerable to frostbite.

Avid runner Claire Sheridan, values the time she spends running outdoors. Rather than exercising outside in warmer temperatures, she enjoys the cooler weather. “I’m never swelteringly hot. As I run, I can remove extra layers if I get uncomfortable,” says Sheridan. She also advises outdoor exercise to those who have a stressful day, saying it’s the perfect “me” time to release energy and take a break.

To keep warm running outside, Sheridan recommends Under Armour-brand apparel. “I always wear my Under Armour leggings; they’re my favorite for keeping warm outside,” says Sheridan. However, there are some conditions that keep even dedicated runners like Sheridan from venturing outdoors. “My mentality is, if it’s too dangerous to drive, it’s too dangerous to run,” says Sheridan. She recommends keeping watch for dangers such as black ice, which can be a hazard to both runners and drivers.

However, Sheridan’s fear of black ice is just one of many dangers present to runners in the winter months. In addition to lower temperatures, winter presents the hazards of rain, snow, and ice. When exercising outside during times of precipitation, polypropylene is the best fabric to wear. This material is moisture-wicking, meaning it will keep the body dry from rain, snow, and perspiration. Goretex and nylon are also popular fabrics for running in winter weather, since they lessen the effect of blistering wind chill. Be warned, though, that nylon fabric breathes less easily and may cause runners to sweat more. Also take the time of day into account; shortened daylight hours make runners less visible to drivers. If running in the dark, invest in a reflective pin or vest.

With these tips in mind, there is no excuse not to get out for a mid-winter run. Don a hat, grab some gloves, and get moving! Stay warm, be safe, and get in shape for the warm months of the upcoming spring season.

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