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Brrr. . . when it's cold outside

Posted Nov 14 2012 2:38pm
I confess that I hate the cold weather.  I am a big,  fat wimp when it comes to braving the cold outside.  And to exercise outside?  Let's just say it is a struggle for me!  As in most things, though, once I actually get myself dressed in the right gear and get out there, I'm always glad I did!  So, as the temps begin to drop and the days begin to shorten (which I also hate . . . even more than the cold!) there are some things to keep in mind to keep us getting outside, staying motivated and continuing to move through the winter.  We are going to look at three things on exercising outdoors:  getting out there, the best way to dress and tips for keeping it up through the cold.  Whether you are a runner, walker, biker, outdoor bootcamper, tennis player or anything in between, the goal is to keep moving!

The first hurdle is finding the Motivation.  This time of year can be especially tough for outdoor exercisers. Some of you may be like me and not exactly love the cold, wet days.  Motivation is quite different for everyone.  I've written on this in the past and I still find it very elusive.  What works for one person doesn't do a thing for the next!  Some folks will exercise for fear of losing all the strength or aerobic capacity you have gained, others may exercise in order to keep from gaining any weight they worked so hard to lose.  Some folks just like the feeling of accomplishment and actually like to exercise. While we are all different, and sometimes this time of year it is especially hard to find that motivation, here are some things to try.  

Rewards: If it's cold and miserable outside think of rewarding yourself with something warm to drink, some time in front of the fire or in a blanket when you get back.  If you normally do not make time to sit down with a book or magazine, make that your reward for getting  your booty outside. 
Shop:  I'm going to talk about what to wear during the cold weather, so if you don't have the right gear, get out there and get a few things to get  you out the door and keep you warm while you exercise.  If you actually spend the money, chances are you might feel to guilty to let it sit untouched in your closet!
List:  This may sound really nerdy, but make a list of the benefits that exercising through the winter will give  your.  Make it detailed and long.  Also, put it out somewhere you will see it - better yet, where your family will see it- to  motivate you to keep going.  You can keep adding to it as the months pass and checking off things as you accomplish them.
Bribe:  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  If there is something you've been wanting, or maybe some little things that you don't normally take time for, set up a challenge for yourself and reward yourself when you meet that challenge.  

You can also set a goal for yourself or sign up for a race or event.  You know when it is on the calendar and you know you need to train, so these can be goals to make you continue to train.  Run with a friend.  You know they will be waiting for you and you know you can't "stand them up."  Another trick is to visualize  yourself outside running, walking or whatever it is you choose to do.  It's often a little easier if you have already seen yourself do it, even if it's only in your head!  Most importantly, find what works for  you and keep it up. 

So, now you are all set and motivated to bear the cold.  What now?  What will make you most comfortable and keep you healthy and safe while out in the cold?  
What to wear?  Here are things to consider when dressing for the cold.

1.  Head and Neck.

When it's cold out you can lose up to 40% of your heat from your head, so it's really important to cover your head.  Do not go out the door bare-headed!  A Thermal Hat, fleece or wool will keep you warm outside and most can cover your ears, too, to keep them from getting chapped.  When it's really cold out, a neck gaiter or bandana to cover the neck is a good idea.  You can also pull it up over  your mouth to warm the air you are breathing which helps right when you start a run.  Remember your chapstick before you get out the door, and you may want to keep it in your pocket to keep your lips from chapping, especially when it's windy.

2. Upper Body
The kay here is layering.  Layers trap the heat and let any sweat move through the layers of clothing.  Your first layer should be a wicking base.  There are so many cool materials out there now for this.  You'll find DryFit, Thinsulate, Thermax, CoolMax, ploypropolene or silk to name a few.  These materials wick the sweat away from your body so you will stay dry.  Whatever you do, do NOT wear cotton for this layer.  You will sweat, get wet and stay wet and cold! 

If you are where it is very cold outside, say below 10 degrees, your second layer should be an insulating material like a fleece.   This will also wick moisture from the skin.  Some fabrics you will find are Dryline, Polartec, ployester fleece, Microfleece and Thermax.  There are also others you will find available.  

Next, if you are out in the wind and rain or sleet you will need a water or weather-proof outer layer.  (Honestly, I'm such a wimp, this is when I head to the treadmill!)

Hands:  Did you know that you can lose 30% of  your body heat through  your hands and feet?  So, it's important to wear gloves or mitten to cover your hands on cold days. 

3. Lower Body
You really don't need as many layers on your lower body as your upper because your bigger  muscles generate so much heat.  Usually a pair of pants or tights made from a good material will do.  Look for synthetic materials like Thinsulate, Thermax, Coolmax or such.  If it's below 10 degrees F, you may then want two layers or wind-proof pants. 

Never wear cotton socks in the cold.  They do not wick and will leave your feet wet, cold and prone to blisters.  Find a good pair of wicking socks. 
I've put some photos of some examples of good cold weather gear you might want to consider when looking for your winter exercise clothes.
Picture Fleece or wool beanie type hat
Picture First layer, wicking top
Picture Outer layer, having a hood is also good layer and notice the holes for your thumbs so the sleeves can cover your hands
Picture Bottom base layer - tights
Picture If you don't like tights or need a second layer these are a good example
Picture A really cool fleece headband to keep your ears toasty and connect to your IPod!
Picture Love these mittens with a flap for your fingers
Now, you are motivated and dressed.  What else do you need to know?
1.  Dress for 15 - 20 degrees warmer.  Try not to overdress.  Your body will heat you and allow your body temp to increase to reduce over sweating and over heating.  You should actually feel chilly when you walk out the door. 
2.  Run During Light and Warmer Times of Day: If you can run during the daylight, you can absorb the sunshine, have the benefit of the warmer time of day and the vitamin D from the sun.
3.  Be Visible: If you have to run in the dark, PLEASE wear a reflective vest or lights so traffic can see  you.  Do NOT dress all in black!  Wear some color out there!
4.  Hit the Treadmill: I know this tip goes against the gist of this post, but let's be honest.  If it's dark out, miserable and icy, it's just not safe.  At least you will stay in shape and stay safe!
5.  Stay Low: Shorten your running stride and keep your feet lower to the ground. You will run more efficiently and reduce the risk of slipping, falling or straining muscles. Choose to run on fresh snow rather than ice or packed snow. You will get better traction on fresh snow and reduce the chance for slipping. Watch out for snow-covered cracks and holes in the road.
6.  Warm Up: Take extra time to let your body warm up.  It will do so more slowly in the winter, so take an extra five minutes to walk or jog to warm up for whatever exercise you are doing.  
7.  Hydrate: Don't forget to drink fluids!  Just because it is cold outside, doesn't mean you do not need as much water as you do in the summer.  Hydrate before, during and after. 


What do you do to stay fit during the cold?  

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