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Exercising in Cold Weather

The weather may be frightful from time to time, but that's no reason to forego outdoor pursuits. If you trade exercise for sitting by the fire huddled there may be a heftier you to get moving come spring.

“Your outdoor running and walking routines don't have to go away when it's cold. Just modify them a little,” says Valerie Walkowiak of the Loyola Center for Fitness in Maywood, Illinois. “Winter can be a great time for outdoor activity if you're prepared.”

Being prepared when temperatures plummet will help you stay both fit and safe.

The Benefits of Staying Active Year-Round

Actually, exercising in cold weather offers many advantages.

Some studies have found that cold-weather exercise helps to transform white fat into brown fat that burns more calories around the belly and thighs. During the winter, some people are affected by a lack of sunshine and may experience a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. When you're outside exercising, you expose yourself to sunshine, which may help to prevent SAD.†

According to Adam Tenforde, MD, assistant professor of sports medicine and rehabilitation at the Boston-area Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, exercising in cold weather may help you improve endurance while increasing your ability to work out more intensely.

"In colder temperatures, your heart doesn't have to work as hard, you sweat less and you expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently,” Tenforde explains.

So use the cold to your advantage. Running, skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing are vigorous workouts that build strength and help improve your cardiorespiratory system. Because the body can self-regulate its temperature better when it's cold out, you can push harder, which allows your body to burn more calories.

In fact, it appears that warm- and cold-weather workouts complement each other.

According to a University of Oregon study, training and working out in warm weather actually helps you perform better at winter sports. Cyclists who trained in the heat were able to ride faster and exhibited more aerobic power than those who only trained in the cold.

Dressing for the Cold

Dressing in layers is the best advice for working out in cold weather.

“Avoid heavy coats because when you sweat, you'll feel colder from moisture sitting on the skin. Sweating may also lead to dehydration,” says Walkowiak.

For your upper body, start with a base layer made of synthetic material that allows evaporation of moisture. Cover that with a sweater, then an outer shell or jacket that is wind and waterproof, yet breathable. For your lower body, wear a base layer, then add tights that have a fleece lining or ones that have a wind-resistant outer layer.

Keep your head, hands and neck warm by wearing a fleece or wool scarf.

Walkowiak recommends footwear with soles that can provide traction on snow, ice or uneven surfaces as well as waterproof outerwear—shoes, hat, gloves—to keep you dry. The hat is especially important; you can lose a lot of body heat through your head.

Staying Safe During Winter Workouts

Taking a few simple precautions will help to ensure your safety while exercising in cold weather.

For starters, always check the weather forecast and plan for changing weather. And don’t forget your pre-workout stretch—cold muscles can be pull-prone.

It's important for motorists or other people to see you clearly on gloomy days or when running, walking, or cycling in the dark, so wear reflective clothing. To avoid hazards such as icy patches or potholes, wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight.

Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia

Hypothermia results when your temperature drops below 95º; your body loses heat quicker than it can produce it. Signs of mild hypothermia include shivering, teeth chattering and a slight feeling of disorientation.Hypothermia can occur in temperatures as warm as 50 degrees for the prolonged periods that you would encounter if you're, say, running a marathon or cycling long distances.

Signs of moderate hypothermia include slurred speech, increased shivering, a weak pulse and lack of coordination. If left unchecked, severe hypothermia can occur. The person stops shivering, breathes very shallowly, becomes extremely disoriented and often loses consciousness. A person suffering from hypothermia must be warmed up; wet clothes should be removed and replaced with dry ones.

Also be aware of the danger posed by frostbite, in which skin and underlying tissues begin to freeze; a numb or painful sensation is the first sign.

Immerse frostbitten extremities in lukewarm, not hot water, and wrap the person in warm blankets. Skin turning white indicates restricted blood flow; if that happens seek medical help.

To prevent frostbite, always wear a hat, scarf and gloves in very cold weather.

Also, keep in mind that cold weather doesn't protect you against sunburn. “Sunscreen is almost more important in winter than in summer because snow or ice can reflect more than 80% of ultraviolet radiation, compared to between 10% and 15% for water and beach sand in summer,” says Ashani Weeraratna, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University.

Weeraratna recommends wearing a hat with a brim that provides a protective shadow over the face. And don't forget to protect your lips; using a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15 (30 is even better) can also help prevent painful cold sores around your mouth.

Know Your Body

If you're not used to vigorous exercise, winter isn't the best time to start a fitness program unless you have access to an indoor facility. But even if you continue to follow a regular routine, know your limits and listen to your body.

If your muscles feel tired, you can't keep up your usual pace or you feel thirsty, it's time to reevaluate what you're doing. Cold and wind can zap energy quickly, so find a warming center or indoor area where you can recover.

“Stay away from caffeine products,” Walkowiak advises. “Although it's tempting to drink a cup of hot coffee or hot chocolate to warm up, caffeine may accelerate dehydration. Drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated and keep the body performing efficiently.”

Walkowiak cautions against eating protein before exercising, as blood will go to your digestive system rather than to your extremities. “Because fruit is usually digested within an hour that's a good snack. After exercise, eat to replenish protein and carbohydrate stores,” she adds.

Your immune system also needs protection. Zinc and the probiotic S. salivarius K12 help support a healthy upper respiratory tract; arabinogalactans, olive leaf and andrographis support proper immune function.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Instead of using cold temperatures as an excuse to stay inside, get out and enjoy winter's invigorating chill.

†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.

The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.

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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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