When the Weather Outside Is Frightful: 10 Tips for Warmer Winter Workouts

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By: Ann M. Swank

Note: Be sure to consultwith your diabetes careteam before starting anynew exercise program.

Winter brings shorter days, longer nightsand all too often, lousy weather. We need torespect the impact of cold weather on ourbodies and learn to adapt our routines so wecan work out safely in the winter.

This is even more important for peoplewith diabetes, because complications ofthe disease (especially nerve damage) andthe effects of some medications may alterthe body’s ability to maintain body coretemperature.

Here are 10 tips for exercising in cold orwindy conditions, when conserving bodyheat is important:

1. Wear Headgear

Forty percent of body heat lost due to coldis lost through the head, so headgear iscritical. Men’s body temperature drops morerapidly because their circulatory systemdirects warm blood to the extremities,keeping hands and feet warm. Women,however, retain most of their body heat inthe torso, so they must watch more carefullyfor frostbite of the hands and feet. And beaware of the wind chill factor. A 20 mph windat 20 degrees produces a “cooling effect”equivalent to -10 degrees.

2. Wear Layers

Staying warm requires that you trap warm,dry air next to the body. Thus, the “layeredlook” is “in.” The ideal outfit is an undershirt, a shirt, a sweater and a light, waterproofwindbreaker. It is better to wear one pair offluffy socks than two pairs of tightly fittingsocks. The second pair of socks just takesup space where the warm air should be andrestricts blood flow to the feet.

3. Mittens Not Gloves

Mittens are warmer than gloves becausethere is a greater volume of air around eachfinger, and the air is warmed by four fingersinstead of one. In addition, the frictionof fingers brushing against one anothergenerates additional heat. However, whendriving, gloves offer more dexterity andsafety than mittens.

4. Thicker Is Better

A garment’s warmth is determined by itsdensity, not by its weight. A one-pounddown-filled ski parka that is two inches thickwill keep you warmer than a four-poundwoolen overcoat that is only half an inchthick.

5. Before Exercising, Have a Hot Meal

The body absorbs heat from hot foods andbeverages like soup, oatmeal, tea and cocoa.

6. Warm Up Indoors First

Before going outside, do some warm-upexercises for a minimum of five minutes.Cold air causes the arteries to constrict, and abrief warm up may help minimize this.

7. Inhale Through the Nose, ExhaleThrough the Mouth

Inhaled air is warmed in the lungs. Scarvesand ski masks worn over the nose andmouth help to warm the air you breathe.

8. Keep Moving

Active muscles will continue to generateheat. The body becomes chilled when youstop moving.

9. No Alcohol, No Smoking BeforeExercising in the Cold

Smoking and drinking waste body heat andconfuse the body’s “thermostat,” whichdistributes and conserves body heat. And becautious with your alcohol intake: Check withyour healthcare provider to be sure drinkingis safe for you.

10. Maintain Your Proper Weight

Surprisingly, being overweight leaves youmore vulnerable to the cold. Layers of fatinsulate the nerve endings that activate thebody’s thermoregulation, or heat-makingprocesses. You will maintain body warmthbetter with a higher ratio of muscle to fat.Don’t let the cold and bad weather keepyou from your exercise routine. Follow thesesuggestions, and your winter workouts willbe warmer, safer and more enjoyable.


Serious Injuries Associated WithCold-Weather Exercise

The most common disabling cold-relatedinjuries are cold stress, frostbite, lung burnand hypothermia.

Hypothermia and frostbite are themost serious of these. Hypothermiais a drop in body temperature thatcauses uncontrolled shivering. Frostbiteattacks the feet, hands, ears and nose,in that order. The affected extremitywill appear pale and stiff to the touch.

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