It’s not always easy staying motivated to work out, especially during the cold and seemingly endless winter months! When it’s snowy and icy outside, we’re more compelled to stay in, drink some hot cocoa, and relax. We would also much rather avoid the risk of frostbite or injury. But, there are so many enjoyable winter activities to choose from to make your workout worthwhile! Here’s a list of safety tips that will help drive your fitness outdoors this winter!
Working out in the cold weather is fun and safe, so make the best of the season! However, if you have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, heart problems or Raynaud’s disease, speak with your doctor beforehand for extra precautions.
- Avoid frostbite and check the forecast
Before you begin your outdoor workout, it’s important to check the temperature, wind chill, and plan for the length of time you will spend outside.
If the wind chill is extreme, falling below -17.8 °C, engaging in outdoor exercise can be unsafe, even if you’re wearing the warmest winter clothing. In fact, our Athletic Therapist here at Cardiogenix recommends exercising outdoors at a maximum of -15 °C; any colder can significantly increase the risk of frostbite.
At -15 °C and above, the risk of frostbite is less than 5%, while below -28 °C, frostbite can occur quickly. Within 30 minutes or less! If the temperature falls below -15 °C, it’s best to continue your exercise indoors! Unless you have waterproof gear, avoid outdoor exercise if it’s raining or snowing as well.
- Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia
Frostbite is an injury caused by the freezing of the skin. There are different degrees of frostbite and so the appearance and severity of a frostbite varies. When ice crystals form within the affected body parts, the frozen tissue is deprived of blood and oxygen, which causes tissue damage or tissue death. For example, the end of a finger or toe can gradually separate off. The most common areas to get frostbitten are on your cheeks, nose, ears, hands, and feet, so remember to always bundle up! If you start to experience numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation, then get out of the cold immediately and seek medical attention.
Hypothermia is a serious medical emergency that is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, which results in an abnormally low body temperature of below 35 °C. When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system, and other organs cease to work normally, and if untreated, hypothermia can lead to complete heart failure, the failure of your respiratory system, or death. Though symptoms vary from mild to severe hypothermia, intense shivering, slurred speech, confusion, loss of coordination, and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms. If you or someone else begin to experience these symptoms, seek medical help immediately! While waiting for emergency care indoors, carefully remove any wet clothing on the person affected and cover them in layers of blankets. Exercising in cold, rainy weather increases your risk of hypothermia, so always be careful.
- Protect your head, hands, and feet
When the weather is cold, blood flow is concentrated in your body’s core. This leaves your head, hands, and feet vulnerable to frostbite. So, protect them well! Be sure to wear a hat or a headband or even a scarf or a ski mask if it’s very cold. To protect your hands, you should consider wearing a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material, a type of fabric that draws moisture away from the body, underneath a pair of heavier gloves or mittens made of wool or fleece. Finally, to protect your feet, it’s a good idea to buy fitness shoes that are a half size or a full size larger than your actual size. Doing so will allow you to wear thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks to keep you even warmer.
- Dress in layers
When staying out in the cold weather, make sure to dress in layers! This way, you can remove layers or put them back as much as you please! You will need a base layer, a mid-layer, and a top layer.
The base layer:
Avoid wearing cotton, as the key element for the base layer is moisture management and wicking material. It should also have good thermal properties to help maintain the body’s core temperature. The base layer should be close fitting or compression fitting.
The mid layer:
Cold weather mid-layer clothing should also be moisture wicking, but is generally constructed in a loose weave fabric, which allows for pockets of warm air to be created by one’s own body temperature. These garments are generally light and susceptible to weather conditions.
The top layer:
The top layer is the weather protective layer. It needs to be adequate for the weather conditions you face, such as impermeable fabric to protect from the rain and snow or waterproof fabrics, and should be of breathable moisture wicking construction and well ventilated.
- Get your safety gear ready and apply your sunscreen
The most important thing to do is to take the right measures to make your workout as safe as possible! For instance, if you decide to exercise after the sun goes down, be sure to wear reflective clothing. If you want to avoid injury, opt for footwear with enough traction to prevent falls. Also, if you’re skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling, wear a helmet!
Since you’re as likely to get sunburned in the winter as you are in the summer, don’t forget to apply your sunscreen before you head outdoors for your winter fitness activities! In fact, your chances of getting sunburned are even higher in the winter if you’re exercising in the snow or at higher altitudes. This is because the snow reflects the sun’s rays! Use sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, and don’t forget your lips need sun protection too! Also, wear dark glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from the snow, ice glare, and the sun itself.
Some other tips include carrying chemical heat packs to warm up your hands and feet when you need to. Our personal favorite tip is from our very own Athletic Therapist. She recommends to lubricate your airway passages to help facilitate breathing in the cold air and to make sure your skin doesn’t crack! For your mouth, you can either wear a lip balm on your lips or apply Vaseline around your lips. For your nose, make sure to apply Vaseline on the outer-edge of your nostrils.
- Stay hydrated
Remember that staying hydrated is very important all year round, at any temperature. You can just as easily become dehydrated in the cold weather as you are in the heat. When in the cold, sweating, breathing, the dry wind, and increased urine production can all cause dehydration. Be sure to drink water or sports drinks throughout your workout and even after, whether you feel thirsty or not!
Stay safe and be active!
If winter is your favored season of the year and you already love to be active, we hope these tips help you stay safe to enjoy your winter activities to the fullest! If not, we hope this encourages you to discover the season’s delights!