It's February... We are right in the thick of winter. If you exercises outdoor, winter might not be a time you particularly relish. You might even have switch all of your workouts indoor by now. Or worse... You might have stopped exercising altogether because you have been less than motivated and feeling lethargic from the weather...
Curling up under a blanket by a fireplace likely sounds more appealing.
But know that winter tends to bring a weight gain of 5 to 10 pounds on average. Can you only blame the weather?
Winter is of course a great time for outdoor activities and cardiovascular activities.
Today, my only goal is to do a review of the risks, but mostly the benefits of exercising in cold weather.
You might have to take extra precautions and measures but will learn that winter brings on special benefits when it comes to exercising.
To help you plan for exercising in cold weather, you need to first understand the risks. Let’s review these first.
HYPOTHERMIA: this is when your body’s heat is lost faster than your body can create it. A low body temperature can trigger a heart attack, as well as organ damage, like your kidneys and liver.
Elderly/ geriatric patients are are greater risk of hypothermia and layering is particularly important in this population.
FROSTBITE: Exposure to extreme cold and below freezing temperature leads to the injury of body tissue that creates permanent damage. You do not need to be climbing in the Himalayas to be subject to frostbite. Your extremities, and particularly your hands/fingers and feet/toes are especially at risk.
if you have experienced red, swollen and numb fingers after being in cold weather, with rapid improvement once you warm-up, you have been exposed to frostnip, and not frostbite.
Wearing a hat, gloves and thick/warm socks when exercising in cold weather becomes very important not only to prevent frostbite, but also prevent hypothermia. If you are a jogger, you might feel it is not necessary but your hands will stay cold even as the rest of your body warms up.
FALLS: With cold weather, ice and snow can be a daily occurence for you depending on where you live. And of course, with this the risk of falls from slipping is real.
MUSCLES INJURY: Cold temperature promote vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of your blood vessel. What does that mean when exercising?
it means the muscles your are using to walk, run/jog, cross-country ski or perhaps snowshoe could not be receiving sufficient amount of oxygen for their proper function. This could lead to a strain or a tear.
WHAT ABOUT THE HEART?
Your heart is a muscle as well and so it also has to deal with vasoconstriction each time you exercise in temperature below 59 degrees. In cold weather, your heart has to work harder in order to pump blood through your system and delivers oxygen to the muscles and joints that are buying used when exercising.
Depending on the condition of your circulatory system/ your blood vessels( think possible narrowing due to condition like atheroscleroris), your heart will have to work even harder and that could lead to strain or even a heart attack.
Like before engaging in exercises or sports, it is always a good idea to consult with your physician, especially if you are found to have a possibly undiagnosed circulatory conditions ( or any other) that might affect the way your heart will perform in cold weather.
This is not a contraindication for exercising in cold weather... but merely a precaution
WHAT ABOUT THE LUNGS?
If you have exercises outside in cold weather before, you might have experience a burning sensation or chest pain.
this is because your lungs are very sensitive to cold. Breathing large amount of cold air creates extra work for your lungs. In mild temperature, your lungs humidify the air you breather while at the same time heating that air. When you breathe cold air, the cold air makes your airways constrict/ narrower, which makes it more difficult for your lung as they re also trying to humidify and warm that air as fast as possible.
Cold air is typically dry and can dry your throat ad lungs excessively.
with practice, you can help your lung to adapt better to exercising in cold air. But that will not make your lung get in shape any faster.
Of course if you suffer from asthma or other respiratory condition that tends to constrict your airways, you might also have to modify your workout in cold weather.
Asthma specialists recommends to not exercise outdoor when the temperature is in the single digits as it could trigger an asthma attack.
And now, on to the many benefits of exercising in cold weather:
Despite the risk previously listed, exercising in cold weather can have some benefits:
So as you can see, next time you try to use the cold temperatures as an excuse for not exercising, you should reminds yourself about these health benefits.
But of course the dangers of cold temperatures cannot be ignored and you should take the following precautions:
So there you have it... Cold temperatures can be very beneficial when it comes to your health... The winter and fall could turn out to be the perfect time to exercise
Pierre-Yves Butheau, MPT, CMP has been a physiotherapist for 19 years and has a passion for helping people move better, return from and prevent injuries, as well as improve their function and quality of life. He has a strong interest in addressing the root cause of and treating neuro-musculoskeletal conditions while educating his patients with the knowledge to manage their conditions and prevent recurrence. Pierre also has a niche in treating Bell's palsy and temporomandibular joint dysfunctions.