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Exercising in the Cold Weather

December 30, 2013

Ware, MA (December 30, 2013) - It’s official; the colder temperatures have arrived.   No matter what time of year, exercising and breathing fresh air can be good for you!  “If fact, the American Council on Exercise says it’s fine to exercise in the cold as long as you follow health and safety tips before you begin,” said Dr. Richard Gerstein, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital.

Plan a safe Route

When planning outdoor exercise of any kind first map out your route noting areas to avoid that might be prone to large amounts of snow, ice and other traffic dangers. Always tell someone what route you're taking, and when to expect your return.  Remember that it gets dark earlier during the winter months, so be sure to wear light and reflective clothing, to ensure that drivers can see you.  Use the sidewalk if it’s clear of ice and slippery snow. Find a well-lit route, slow your pace, and make sure you’re familiar with areas of broken concrete.

On your feet

Be sure to wear sturdy footwear with good traction to prevent slips and falls on snow or ice. Be cautious for black ice which forms early in the morning and at dusk, and is almost impossible to see. Wear a helmet while skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.  


Wear layers

Dress in layers. The first layer that’s directly touching your skin should be a lightweight synthetic or polyester material. It will dry quickly and wick away moisture. Don't wear cotton next to the skin, as you start sweating, cotton captures moisture and traps it next to your body and your body loses heat four times faster when exposed to water. The second layer should be wool or polyester fleece.  Wear an outer layer that repels wind and precipitation as necessary.


Put on a Hat

A hat is important because a great amount of heat is lost through your head and neck; in fact up to 50 percent of body heat is lost from an uncovered head when the temperatures hit the freezing mark.  Having a loose layer like a turtle neck or a scarf to pull over your nose and mouth can also warm frigid air before you inhale, helping to protect your lungs.


Keep your hands warm

Fingers and hands are very vulnerable to the cold, so keep them covered. Gloves can help prevent skin damage and frostbite.  Hand warmers can be useful, but should not be used as a substitute for dressing warmly.   Remember that your fingers, toes, ears and nose are at greatest risk because these areas do not have major muscles to produce heat. In addition, the body will preserve heat by favoring your internal organs reducing the flow of blood to the extremities under cold conditions.


Wear sunscreen. The best advice for summertime also stands during winter, use sunscreen!   You can just as easily get sunburned in the winter as in the summer, especially if you are exercising in the snow. Use sunscreen, with an SPF of at least 15 and reapply as necessary. Remember to use lip balm to protect your lips from winter cold and exposure to the sun, wind, cold, and dry air too.


Drink plenty of fluids. Staying properly hydrated is just as important during cold weather as during hot weather. Drink before, during and after your workout, even if you don't feel very thirsty, as dehydration may be more difficult to notice during cold weather exertion.


Who Should Avoid Cold Weather Exercise?  Exercising in cold weather may not be ideal for everyone; certain medical conditions demand extra caution, check with your doctor prior to engaging in cold weather exercise if you have a Heart Condition.  The American Heart Association points out that people with coronary artery disease are more likely to have chest pain, also known angina in cold weather.  Other medical conditions that warrant caution when exercising in the cold include asthma, exercise-induced bronchitis and Raynaud's Disease.  

Keeping up your exercise routine in cold weather has extra benefits. First, outdoor exercise is a great way to cure the "winter blues”.  Second, exercise increases your energy levels, which tend to be lower during bouts of cold or gloomy weather. Finally, exercise boosts your immune system so you may find that you get fewer winter colds. Continuing an exercise routine during the winter does not mean you have to stay inside. With the right clothing and proper planning, you can get the most out of your workout, including outside during cold weather. 


Dr. Gerstein joins the board certified Emergency Medicine Physicians who proudly provides expert care in the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Emergency Department.  The mission of the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Emergency Department is to provide timely and exceptional care.  With our 30-minute pledge, our goal is for a provider to see every patient within 30 minutes of their arrival at our facility.  Check out iTriage, a smartphone-based application for Android and iPhone to see our actual ER wait times.  For more information visit or find us on Facebook.