Combat the Chill: Exercise in Proper Gear

Whether your exercise hobby is hiking, biking, running or walking, this is the time of year we become discouraged. Have you ever convinced yourself not to go outside for a walk because the temperature dropped to 50 degrees and cloudy? Have you ever become so discouraged about running two miles because you were afraid of the high wind?

Some of us need to continue running to stay in shape or meet military requirements, not just for health reasons, but job standards. Just because it is getting colder doesn’t mean we have to stop; it only means we have to pay a little more attention on how we prepare.

Our problem is we do not control how much heat our body will lose during exercise. If we do not pay close attention to our body’s heat loss, then injuries, sickness or hypothermia can occur. This article is not meant to discourage you, but to make you aware of the risk when we ignore the factors that play a role in the body’s ability to maintain a comfortable temperature during exercise. Our challenge will be how to control heat loss.

Insulation: Insulation is body fat plus our clothing. Understanding the basics in insulation is the most important factor in your performance and comfort. One study showed that at the freezing temperature, heat loss from the head alone reached about 50 percent. By simply wearing suitable headgear, subjects were able to stay outside indefinitely.

Lower temperatures will cause blood to be pushed away from your hands and feet in order to protect organs closer to the chest and torso. Blood flow will not return to the feet unless the torso temperature is normal or slightly higher. As a result, to keep the feet warm, we must keep our whole body warm. Gloves, socks and a hat, which cover the ears, will guard your extremities; layers of clothing will protect your chest.

Clothing is a barrier that can trap air next to your body. If the air cannot escape, then it will not be able to conduct heat away from your body, thus keeping your temperature warm. However, as we sweat, our clothing becomes wet and turns into a rapid conductor of heat. We need to choose clothing that can trap air, but still allows water to pass. Start with a base layer made out of fabrics like polypropylene. Stay away from heavy cotton sweats or tightly-woven material; it is uncomfortable and dangerous, because it increases the amount of heat you will lose. The mid-layer, fleece or wool, is loose material that insulates the body by trapping warm air to the body. Use a windbreaker to shield yourself against any extra elements.

Controlling your temperature and preventing cold symptoms involve more than just insulation. First, even though it is cold outside and you do not feel like you have lost a lot of water, keep hydrated. Once you become dehydrated, your body has trouble regulating temperature. As a result you may become weak and faint. Second, when you finish your workout, dry off quickly. You may be hot for now, but eventually those wet clothes will start freezing.

Finally, dress for weather that is 15-20 degrees warmer than it feels outside. If you layer yourself with the proper fabrics your body will trap the heat and your body will warm up after a few minutes. It is just as dangerous to be overheated as it is to be cold.

More information can be found at www.acefitness.org by searching ACE Fit Facts: Exercising in the Cold.