Don’t Let Winter Keep You from Exercising Outdoors

January 7, 2018
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Dressing in layers and staying dry are keys to enjoying a winter workout, no matter how cold the weather.

By M. J. Alvarez |

Scandinavians have a saying that deals with the low temperatures we have been experiencing in our area recently: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”

This is true. There is no reason to move your outs indoors when the temperatures turn cold. Exercising outdoors in the winter is one of the most rewarding things you can do. The winter woods are a wonderland – no bugs, no bears and no people.

With proper winter attire, you can continue to participate in hiking, running and even road cycling locally year-round no matter how low the temperature maybe–so long as the roads remain ice-free.

The following are two principles that if utilized will allow you to comfortably enjoy exercising outdoors in the winter.

Apart from wearing “good clothing,” the key to staying comfortable while exercising in the coldest temperatures is to stay dry. One way to do that is by working out at a pace that will not cause you to sweat. Unfortunately, for most people any sort of activity that elevates the heart rate to a level that will result in a training effect will cause some sweating.

The answer to staying dry in winter while allowing for some sweating is to dress in three layers. The first layer against the skin should be a synthetic wicking layer. This layer wicks your sweat to your second layer, an insulating layer such as a fleece, keeping your skin dry. The third outer layer can be a hard shell for protection against the wind.

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So the first general principle is to dress in three layers – wicking layer against the skin followed by an insulating layer between the wicking layer and your outer wind-protection layer.

You may even finish your workout with a patina of very thin ice between your second layer and the third wind protection layer but, if dressed properly, you will feel comfortable the entire time because the wicking layer will do its job to move whatever sweat you have generated to the insulating layer.

The second general principle is to carefully regulate body temperature during exercise. As your heart rate goes up, your core temperature will follow. It is amazing how rapidly you warm up once you get into your workout.

Many people hate cold weather workouts because they start out overdressed and then immediately begin sweating heavily. Of course they are probably also wearing a cotton first layer that holds sweat against the skin. To cool off, they remove the top layer and begin to chill when the cold air hits the sweat-soaked cotton layer. Wear cotton to exercise only in summer temperatures and for indoor gym workouts. Among mountaineers, cotton is known as the “killer fabric” due to its property of retaining moisture that in cold temperatures can result in hypothermia or worse.

One of the keys to regulating body temperature during your winter exercise is to start exercising while dressed in just enough clothing so you are comfortably cold. If you are dressed warmly at the start of your workout, you are overdressed. Your core temperature will rise quickly when you begin to move. Soon it will be 70 degrees in your head even if it is 10 degrees outside. Always carry a warm outer layer to put on in the event you need to stop during your workout for any significant amount of time.

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Generally, regulating body temperature means addressing four parts of the body – head, neck, the back of the hands and wrists and ankles.

Mom always said to wear your hat to stay warm. She was right because our heads have a lot of unprotected skin exposed to the elements. Paying attention to your neck, back of the hands and wrists and ankles is also important for body temperature regulation because in those parts of the body the blood vessels are just below the skin without any insulating fat or muscle. Warm blood means a warm body. It is not surprising that to stay warm in the winter we wear boots to cover the ankles, gloves mostly to cover the back of the hands and wrists and also the fingers, and a scarf to cover the neck. To cool off in the summer, we instinctively take off our shoes and roll up our pants, roll up our sleeves and open our collars and, if you are wearing a hat, use it to fan our neck area. Our bodies know best.

So don’t let the frigid temperatures keep you from winter workouts. Dress properly and head outside.

This article was first published in the Jan. 4-11, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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