Exercising in the briskness of the great outdoors during the winter is fun. No, really. It is. All that sun and fresh air and lack of humidity can be downright delightful, but only if you prepare appropriately and don’t lose a toe to frostbite. Ain’t nobody got time for that. We’re not exactly living in the tundra down here in the Dirty South, but it is finally cold enough that you’ll need to do a little extra prep before embarking on your outdoor workout. Here’s what you need to know…
Your heart works harder in the cold. Your arteries tighten, which restricts blood flow and reduces oxygen to your heart. You might feel short of breath faster because of the frigid air. Your body has to put forth more effort than usual to maintain its core temperature. Given all that, don’t try to rush into a personal record. Ease in and let yourself acclimate. You will build a tolerance over time. It gets easier.
This doesn’t mean to throw on every wooly, fleece-lined thing you own. On the contrary, the layer closest to your body should be lightweight material designed to wick moisture away from you. You’re still going to be working out, after all, and that means sweat… at least if you’re doing it right. Sweat that stays close to your skin in low temperatures can lead to chilly bones (not the medical term). Put a layer of wool or fleece over that and, if conditions require it, a water-repellant layer on top of that — although, let’s face it, that’s more of a Colorado or Maine sort of plan than an Atlanta one. Most of the time, a wicking layer + a fleecy layer + ample exertion should keep you warm enough.
Don’t forget the accessories.
A scarf wrapped around your nose and mouth can warm the air before as it comes in. Your fingers, toes, ears, and face are most susceptible to frostbite, so don’t forget to grab a hat, some gloves, and maybe an ear warmer as well.
On sweltering Atlanta summer days, drinking plenty of water during a workout is a no brainer. When it gets chilly, you might not feel as parched as you do when dealing with the heat, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to drink as much. Your body uses moisture to humidify the cold, dry air coming in through your nose, and the lack of humidity in the winter means that your sweat evaporates faster. Drink even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Know the signs.
Hypothermia happens when your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Signs include the inability to think clearly, slurred speech, exhaustion or drowsiness, numb hands or feet, shallow breathing, pain in the extremities, and a slow or weak pulse. If someone you’re with gets to this point, call 911. While you wait, get the person indoors. Remove any wet clothing and gently start to warm their trunk first (not feet or hands) with blankets and dry clothing. Don’t immerse them in hot water; you could cause tissue damage or heart problems. Start CPR if necessary.
You should also know the signs of frostbite, which include loss of feeling and a pale or blue-ish skin tone on one or more extremities. The area may also sting or tingle. If this happens, the Red Cross advises to move the person (or yourself) to a warm place and GENTLY warm the area in warm water. Loosely bandage the area with dry, sterile dressing and get to a doctor as soon as possible.
Take it inside if needed.
Outdoor workouts are invigorating and delightful, but don’t be overly brazen about heading outside. Experts say it’s generally safe to workout in temperatures as low as -20 degrees (and let’s face it, we’re not getting there in Atlanta), but use your own good judgment. Check the weather before you go out and if it’s super cold, try working out in mid afternoon when temperatures peak for the day.