Moving to Minnesota in November was a true test for this native Texan. The first winter I lived here was the coldest and snowiest out of the 12 winters I've experienced. I learned fast that life goes on, even in –20 degree winter days. There's always snow to shovel, dogs to walk, shopping to do and playing with the kids outside. I learned to keep moving and dress in layers, but not too many and always wear a hat. I do work with animals, outdoors, year round. The only time I don't walk the dogs is when the ice makes staying on my feet impossible.
The problem with exercising in the cold, exercise physiologists say, is that people may be hobbled by myths that lead them to overdress or to stop moving, risky things to do. Or they are convinced that they are more susceptible to injury when it is cold and that they have to move more slowly — forget about sprinting or running at a fast clip.
Another myth is that you have to acclimatize to cold, just as you do to heat. It’s true that peoples’ bodies adapt to hot weather and that adaptation makes people feel better when they exercise in the heat. It also improves performance. With heat adaptation, you sweat more profusely, your sweat is less salty and your blood volume increases.
Some worry that cold air will injure their lungs or elicit asthma symptoms. But lungs are not damaged by cold, said Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of respiratory research and the human physiology laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. No matter how cold the air is, by the time it reaches your lungs, it is body temperature, he explained.
Some people complain that they get exercise-induced asthma from the cold. But that sort of irritation of the respiratory tract is caused by dryness, not cold, Dr. Rundell said. “Cold air just happens not to hold much water and is quite dry,” he said. You’d have the same effect exercising in air that was equally dry but warm.