After Thanksgiving, winter is just around the corner, especially in Canada. For those of you who can’t relate, watch this commercial from Canadian Tire. This is our life in Canada!
For those of us who like to exercise outdoors, winter can be a challenge. How do you prepare yourself and charge into the great outdoors?
Hypothermia is the most serious issue for which to prepare. It can happen quickly if you are sweaty and remain in cold temperatures for too long.
First, Assess the Challenge
Before you head out the door, check the temperature and wind chill factor. Although the sun is shining you might find a biting wind that will make your outdoor adventure unbearable. Find the most reliable weather source for your location. Personally, we like the weather App on our iPhones. It seems to be more accurate than the local weather forecasters on the morning news shows! Knowing the predicted temperature will help you plan when to be outdoors, what to wear, and what to bring along.
Second, Dress in Layers
The type of activity you’ll be undertaking outdoors will dictate the number of layers to wear. For example, when doing an activity that is sweat-intensive like running, prepare to wear fewer layers as your body can overheat. The temperature will also determine the number of layers – the colder the temperature, the more layers.
Regardless of the number of layers, be sure to wear closest to your skin clothing with moisture wicking fabric. This type of clothing is made to absorb sweat off the skin and out of the exterior of the fabric. The moisture can then evaporate on the surface rather than being trapped on your skin.
Investing in a good wind breaker can also be a lifesaver on windy days. Although it is a light layer, wearing it on the outside can keep the wind from chilling you to the bone!
Third, Keep Extremities Warm
Heat escapes from our extremities like hands, feet and head so keep these covered.
Hands – For extremely cold weather or in windy conditions, you might consider wearing two layers. For example, when cycling in the morning chill, we like to wear a pair of gloves underneath wool mittens. This is our ‘cheapo’ solution but it works 90% of the time! Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) and many other sports stores carry some great technical gloves for outdoor activities. Some of these gloves can be expensive so be sure to read the reviews and ask your friends for their recommendations.
Feet – This is a tough one! Some people like to wear two pairs of socks. If you are using your regular running shoes then the thickness of the socks could make your shoes feel tight. Some experts recommend that you buy shoes about 1/2 to 1 size bigger for winter activities but wearing these shoes the rest of the year could be problematic. Our recommendation is to find socks that are moisture wicking and that make your shoes feel comfortable. Take an extra pair of socks with you in case your feet get too wet while outdoors or if you plan to stay outdoors after your high-sweat activity is done, i.e. after a race.
Head and Ears – Okay, toques (beanies for our American friends) are a must when exercising in cold weather. We know that some women think that wearing them makes them look dorky. Get over it because we all look dorky when dressed like the abominable snowgal!
There are lots of choices for toques today, especially ones that are moisture wicking. Lululemon, Arc’teryx, Spyder and many other brands are making them. Again, some can be expensive but well worth their price when out in the cold. If you want to personalize your head gear to make it more fun, visit (http://www.bondiband.com/). Bondi Band has some great quotes and designs to make your toque (and other accessories) look attractive.
A regular wool hat will also work to keep you warm. Just be sure to have one with fleece inside so your head doesn’t itch when you start to sweat.
Be sure that your head gear covers your ears!
Fourth, Take Care of Your Lungs
If it’s very cold outside, find ways to warm up the air around your face before breathing it in. For example, wear a neck tube or a scarf. It will get moist and maybe even freeze up by the time you finish your activity!
In cold weather, your lungs can get cold and dry. It’s important for you to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth as the nose will warm, humidify and filter the air you breathe.
Fifth, Watch for Icy Conditions
Black ice in cold weather is not just an issue for cars. When on a walking/running path or on roads, watch out for icy conditions. Look ahead so you can anticipate icy patches. Slow down when approaching those areas and try to go around them.
When exercising in snow, wear footwear with treads. You can buy shoes that are specifically made for off road or winter conditions. This is probably a better investment than buying a pair of shoes in a larger size. At Costco and other retailers you can also buy ice and snow traction cleats that fit onto your shoes. For deep winter outdoor activities, these cleats can be handy.
Sixth, Warm Up and Cool Down Indoors
When muscles are cold going into cold conditions, they will continue to be tight and are more prone to injury. Be sure to warm up your muscles before you head out the door. Do some dynamic moves like high kicks, butt kicks, mountain climbers and other moves to raise your heart rate and get the blood flowing to your muscles.
When you’re done your outdoor activity, cool down and stretch indoors. Again, some light dynamic stretching like a few lunges and then your regular stretching should do.
Seventh, Hydrate Throughout Activity
Staying hydrated is just as important in cold weather because you are still sweating although you might not notice. Keep drinking water or electrolyte replacement drinks before, while, and after exercising to avoid dehydration.
Eighth, Pay Attention to Frostbite and Hypothermia
When your skin is exposed to cold for too long or in extreme temperatures, it can get frostbitten. Pay attention to any feeling of numbness or stinging sensation. It can also occur in your fingers and toes. If you suspect frostbite then get back indoors and try to warm up the areas that are frostbitten. Don’t rub the area as it can damage the skin.
Hypothermia can happen quickly if you are wet. Symptoms of hypothermia include “intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Seek emergency help right away…” (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fitness/HQ01681/NSECTIONGROUP=2)
Ninth, Have a Contingency Plan
Carry some money and a cell phone with you. If you are out too long and you get very cold or wet, you might consider taking the bus back home or calling a family member or friend to pick you up.