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Staying Safe While Exercising in The Cold New York Winters

One of my favorite things about living in New York is that we have four seasons. There is a cycle to the year, and we all have our normal routines that go along with different times of the year.

In New York, we tend to use winter as the time of year to get most of our work done. We spend long hours at work trying to be as productive as possible, so when it gets nice in the summer, we are way ahead of our productivity for the year so we can enjoy the warmth of the sun.

With all this extra time spent at work (most likely sitting at a desk), our bodies scream for some exercise, but “IT’S SOOOO COLD” (I hear my 11 year old daughter’s whine as I write that)…so cold that none of us want to go outside to exercise (and there is only so much motivation we can have staring a the same 4 walls in the gym).

So try these tips to get out and enjoy the beauty of New York to stay fit, motivated and warm in the cold winter months.

  • Check the Weather Conditions, especially the Wind Chill

Temperature, wind, and moisture are key factors in the planning of your outdoor winter workouts, and should be the deciding factor in the determining the length and intensity of your workout.

Wind and cold mixed together cause wind chills to drop, and make for dangerous exercise conditions. Wind can penetrate clothes and remove the insulated layer of warmth and increase the skin’s vulnerability to frostbite. At wind chills below -18°F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.

The risk of frostbite is less than 5% at 5°F, but increases dramatically as the temperature dips below 0°F (not to mention the effects of wind chills at these low temperatures). Consider indoor workouts at these temperatures.

Getting wet makes you more vulnerable to the cold. If you get wet at extreme temperature, you may not be able to keep your core temperature high enough, so either postpone your workout or move inside during the winter rains and snow storms.

  • Dress in Layers, but Don’t Overdress

Since your body warms up once you get moving, dressing too warmly can be a big mistake when exercising in the cold. When exercising, overdressing can lead to excess sweating which evaporates as a way to cool your body down, and makes you feel colder.

The solution is quite simple…dress in layers.

  1. The first level should be a wicking material that draws sweat away from the body. Stay away from a cotton first layer which absorbs sweat and makes you colder).
  2. Next add a fleece or wool layer for insulation.
  3. Finally, top it off with a waterproof and breathable outer layer.

By layering, you can remove layers as you warm up to avoid excessive sweat.

  • Cover Your Head, Hands, Feet, and Ears

When your cold, your blood flow is concentrated in the body’s core, which leaves your head, hands and feet with less blood to warm it up, thus more vulnerable to frostbite.

Wear a thin pair of wicking gloves under your heavy pair of gloves or mittens, so you can remove the thick gloves before your hands start sweating, but can keep the blood flowing to your hands efficiently through the entire workout.

Keep your feet dry by avoiding puddles and snow. Wear ONE pair of thick socks to avoid extreme sweating while keeping blood flow consistent even in the beginning of the workout.

Always cover your ears and head to keep the heat in against your head…and use a scarf or ski mask to cover your face in extreme temperatures.

  • Know The Signs of Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing, which is most common on exposed skin especially the hands and feet.

The early warning signs can include numbness, a stinging sensation, or a loss of feeling.

If you suspect frostbite, immediately get out of the cold and slowly warm the area. Do not rub the area as it can damage the skin. If the numbness remains, seek emergency care.

  • Keep a Close Look Out for Hypothermia

Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature (specifically a body temperature below 95°F). When the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures, your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat.

Hypothermia signs and symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, fatigue, and loss of coordination. Older adults and young children are at a much greater likelihood of experiencing hypothermia.

If you experience hypothermia symptoms, seek emergency care as soon as possible.

  • Don’t Forget the Safety Gear—INCLUDING Sunscreen

In the shorter days of winter, it’s harder to get your workout in during the sunlight, so wear reflective clothing to be seen by drivers and others who are exercising. If you ride a bike, use headlights and reflectors.

Use helmets with skiing and bike riding in the winter as falls are more common.

In the extreme cold, invest in a chemical heating pack to keep in your jacket pocket to warm your hands, especially when skiing and biking at high speeds.

Finally, SUNSCREEN is extremely important in the winter, especially when the ground is snow covered and the trees have no leaves. Snow reflects sunlight, and the trees do not block the sun in the winter. Despite the cold, the UV rays continue to hit your skin the same as in the summer.

  • Avoid Stop and Go Activities

Stop and go activities, such as run-walk alternating workouts, interval training, and stop and go sports can make you more vulnerable to the cold as you work up a sweat than expose yourself to lowing body temperatures during rest periods. The body cools extremely fast when sweating and can cause rapid hypothermia.

If you must stop or slow down, pay close attention to keeping your body temperature at a consistent level.

  • Drink Plenty of Fluids

During the winter, people tend to drink less, and have a harder time noticing the early signs of dehydration than in the summer heat.

You can become dehydrated due to sweating, breathing in the cold, dry air, and increased urine production. These symptoms can sneak up on you in the cold.

Drink water and sports drinks before, during and after your workout…even if you’re not thirsty.

  • Watch for Ice Patches

Even if there is no snow on the ground, moisture can puddle and ice up in patches in low lying areas and dips in the pavement. When running and exercising outdoors in the winter, DO NOT let your attention stray from the path you are traveling on, so you don’t land on an ice patch to avoid falls.

It Takes a Plan for Safety in the Cold Weather

By putting all these tips together, you can enjoy exercising in the cold—and stay safe!

Monitor your body closely to prevent injuries and frostbite. Listen to your body, especially your fingers and toes to determine how long is too long to be outside in the cold. Head home to warm up before the signs of frostbite or hypothermia start.

Consider shortening or skipping outdoor workouts when the extreme weather hits—including the latest storm of the century or the latest version of the polar vortex. At least let someone know when you expect to be home from your outdoor winter workout…just in case.

Exercise in the cold is safe for almost everyone, but if you have some forms of asthma, heart problems or Reynaud’s Disease, speak to your doctor to go over any special precautions that you may need based on your conditions or medications.

If you follow these tips and plan your workouts smartly, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of a New York Winter, not miss your workouts, and be home in time for that cup of hot cocoa in front of the fire for a reward for a job well done.

Stay Safe and Stay Warm