With the temperatures dipping, it’s easy to find excuses not to exercise outdoors. But if you dress properly and listen to your body, there is no reason to quit your fitness routine – but you must be careful. According to a recent Harvard Health Newsletter, there are definite risks and benefits to working out in cold weather.
For example, if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder or SAD, getting out in the sunlight can help alleviate your symptoms and boost your mood. There is also some evidence that your burn more fat working out in cold weather. On the other hand, if you have heart disease, extremely cold temps can cause blood vessels to narrow and put undue strain on your heart to pump harder to get more oxygen throughout the body. And icy conditions certainly increased the risk of falling and suffering an injury such as hip fracture.
The key to reaping the benefits of outdoor exercise especially if you are an older adult, is to be prepared.
Dress in layers, advises Dr. Gabe Mirkin, M.D., who is board certified in sports medicine.
“Use layers of clothing because the air space between layers provides insulation from the cold,” he tells Newsmax. “You generate a lot of heat when you exercise, so use full length zippers on your outer layers so you can adjust to your changing needs.”
Mirkin, an avid all-weather exerciser, says that the base layer of clothing should wick away sweat so the best fabrics to use are wool blends, silk or synthetics. Cotton is a poor choice, he explains, because it retains water. The middle layers should be breathable and provide insulation.
“Loosely woven wool, synthetics sweaters or vests are good choices because they trap insulating air and wick water to the outside,” Mirkin explains. “The outer layer should be a material that blocks wind and rain and ideally can be easily removed when you don’t need it.”
Protect your hands by wearing mittens instead of gloves because they retain heat better. You can also buy hand warmers to wear inside your gloves or mittens.
Cover your ears with a headband or wear a balaclava that covers your head and neck with an opening for your eyes, nose and mouth.
Avoid cotton socks on your feet because, again, they tend to retain water, while water and synthetics do not.
“On very cold days wear layer of socks,” says the author of Dr. Mirkin.com, with tips on fitness and health. “Cyclists can wear booties over their special footwear and you can also buy foot warmers like the hand warmers mentioned above.”
For those who fear frostbite, the doctor says that you should never suffer from this condition as you get plenty of warning before your skin starts to freeze.
“First your fingers feel cold and then your skin starts to burn and itch. So, if you feel excessive cold or pain in your fingers, ears or toes, get to a warm shelter as soon as possible,” Mirkin says. “If you have blisters, broken skin, severe pain or signs of infection or no feeling in your skin seek medical help immediately as this could be dangerous and even life-threatening.”
Dr. Beth Frates, director of wellness programming for the Stroke Research and Recovery Institute at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital warns that if people have any kind of cardiovascular, lung or balance issues they should check with their doctor before exercising outdoors in the cold.
The bottom line is to dress intelligently for outdoor exercise in the winter and pay close attention to your body’s warning signs. Take it seriously if you have chest pain, are out of breath, or feel extremely fatigued and call for help immediately, say the experts at Harvard.
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