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Cold weather doesn't have to put chill on exercise

by Matt Doyle
Nov 13, 2008

Winter in Chicago

Photo courtesy of Eddie Quinones via Flickr

 Continue your exercise routine in these conditions.

Cold temperatures, harsh winds, and driving snow soon will be bearing down on Chicago. But wintry weather doesn't have to put a damper on exercise routines, according to sports medicine experts.

Rebecca Carl, an assistant professor of Sports Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine,  and offer these tips for working out during the winter months:

      *Doctor’s Blessing.  said: “Almost everyone can exercise safely in the cold, including people with asthma and heart problems. If you have health concerns, get your doctor's OK.”

    *Dress in layers. “Layering with a light wicking layer first on the inside,” Carl said. “Polyester or polypropylene…something that will wick sweat away from the skin. Then a middle insulating layer like fleece and then an outer layer that has venting properties. Something like Gore-Tex that will keep wind and rain out but allow moisture to escape. Of course everyone’s mother was right that wearing a hat prevents heat loss from the head which can be very significant, up to 50 percent of heat loss from the body comes from the head.”

    *Cover your limbs. “If you are doing a sport where you can wear mittens that will help preserve heat in the hands,” Carl said.

    *Sunscreen. Some of the highest sunburn risk is at high-altitude,” Carl said. “With sports like skiing where you have a big reflection and a thinner atmosphere.

    *Hydration. “We really worry about that in the heat,” Carl advised. “Everyone knows if you are outside in the heat you are going to be sweating and (will) have fluid loss. People forget that you actually still sweat during the winter, and people forget about hydration. The important thing is you have to have adequate hydration in the winter. You can still get dehydrated if you are exercising outdoors in the winter.”

    *Wind chill factors. Carl said the wind chill is a key part of frostbite. Pay attention to wind chill since it can affect the elements more than just temperature.

    *Frostbite and hypothermia. “With early hypothermia people will be shivering and their heart rate will go up and they can be disoriented,” Carl said. “As hypothermia gets worse they can get quite disoriented and they lose their ability to shiver which helps preserve heat.” Frostbite is the freezing of the tissues of the skin and you get formation of crystals in them, Carl said. “One of the key things is you don’t want to warm in the field. You can actually make the damage worse with ‘freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw.’ If you are going to start warming up, make sure the person is out of the cold completely.”

    *Skin protection. Keeping the skin dry is an important point as well. Carl advises that people need to keep their skin dry when outside because wet skin can increase the risk of frostbite, even if it is the person's own sweat. Any tingling or numbness is the first signs of frostbite.

    *Stay motivated. Staying motivated in the winter is difficult for most people. However, it can be rewarding for people to get out of the house and exercise, the experts said..