Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi

Exercise Safely in Cold Weather

It’s a new year and many of us have renewed our commitment to regular exercise or have plans to begin for the first time. But with the cold winter weather and shortened daylight hours, it can be hard to stick to that commitment in the midst of winter. Extreme cold can discourage even the most committed exercise enthusiasts. And if you find it difficult to stay motivated in even the most comfortable weather conditions, you will certainly find it hard to brave the outdoors in the cold.

In Mississippi, we typically enjoy mild winters with the occasional frost and snow flurry. However, early 2010 brought frigid temperatures to the Magnolia state during an unusual cold spell in early January. It’s generally safe to exercise in cold weather conditions, but if you have asthma, a heart condition or poor circulation, check with your doctor for special precautions you should take. Here are some tips to stay safe when exercising in cold weather.

Dress in layers
You may instinctively want to dress in the warmest clothing you can find, but as you begin exercising, your body produces a significant amount of heat which can cause you to sweat. Once your sweat begins to dry, this can cause you to become chilled. The solution? Choose light layers you can add and remove as needed. Start with a thin layer of moisture-wicking fabric (avoid cotton) followed by a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Finish with a top layer of breathable waterproof fabric.

Protect your extremities
Pay special attention to your hands and feet, which are more prone to frostbite, as well as your head. A thin pair of warm gloves usually works well, but you can add a thicker pair on top if needed. Moisture-wicking thermal socks will keep your toes toasty.

Keep your eyes on the weather
Rain and wind can make you more vulnerable in cold weather. When facing extreme weather conditions like a low wind chill and rain, it’s best to move your workout indoors or use that as your rest day. Extreme wind chills can make outdoor exercise unsafe no matter how warmly you dress. When wind is mild to moderate, do the first part of your workout heading into the wind and the second part with the wind at your back. You are less likely to get chilled this way if you’ve already worked up a sweat.

Be aware of frostbite and hypothermia
Frostbite is most common on exposed skin like cheeks, nose and ears but can also affect your hands and feet. Early signs include numbness, tingling or loss of sensation. If you suspect frostbite, get out of the cold and slowly warm the affected area – don’t rub a frostbitten area since this can damage the skin.

Hypothermia is more serious and occurs when your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit and causes your organs to not work properly. Signs of hypothermia include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Seek medical attention immediately in case of hypothermia.

Other tips for exercising in cold weather extend to all types of weather conditions, including wearing sunscreen, drinking plenty of fluids and wearing reflective clothing in the dark.

Follow this advice to keep your motivation high and keep the cold from derailing your efforts. It’s not about braving the cold or trying to tough it out. It’s about out-smarting the cold – and you can do it!

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