How to exercise safely as it gets colder and darker

2. Outside
You can continue exercising outdoors when the weather grows chilly — to a point. (Photo: NYTimes)
As the days shift to become shorter, darker, and cooler, I have begun to worry about whether I will be able to continue taking daily outdoor walks. My strolls, which I can sometimes only squeeze in during the evening, feel crucial for my mental and physical health, so I do not want to stop — but I do not want to take undue risks, either.اضافة اعلان

Is it safe to exercise when it is dark? How cold is too cold? I interviewed two sports medicine physicians and an exercise scientist, all of whom are also outdoor exercise enthusiasts, to get their thoughts. The good news: Yes, you can continue exercising outdoors when the weather grows chilly — to a point.

“We bike all winter long, and we bike in the dark and the cold,” said Dr Tom Fleeter, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine doctor based in Virginia, referring to himself and his wife. But there are extra steps you should take to stay safe from the elements, oncoming traffic, and other threats that ramp up in the fall and winter months.

See and be seen
This may sound obvious, but it is crucial to be able to see where you are going and to ensure that others see you. “Just last week, I took care of a nurse who had broken her ankle jogging at five o’clock in the morning before it was light out,” Fleeter said. She was running in a dark area, could not see well, and fell, he said.

If you are outdoors when it is dark, Fleeter recommended wearing a headlamp. Or you can use a hand-held flashlight or attach small lights to your shoes, suggested Dr Elan Goldwaser, a primary care sports medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Keep in mind, though, that your visibility will still be limited because your light will cast shadows behind the obstacles you encounter. “You’ll see the branch, but you really won’t be able to see what’s behind it until you get to it,” Goldwaser explained.

If you are exercising on a street, it is also important that vehicles can see you, said Sara Terrell, an exercise scientist at Florida Southern College. Consider wearing neon colors — not black or navy blue — as well as reflective items that shine when headlights hit them. (One budget option: Stick strips of reflective tape on your clothes, Terrell suggested.)

Dress for the weather
If you are exercising where it is cold, the experts I interviewed suggested wearing three layers: an underlayer made of a synthetic, moisture-wicking material; a warmer mid-layer, perhaps made of fleece or wool; and a light outer shell that protects against wind and precipitation. Stay away from cotton, Terrell said, which absorbs water and sweat and cools your body, increasing your risk for hypothermia.
When cold, the body releases a hormone called vasopressin that constricts blood vessels and also inhibits thirst, so you may not feel like you need to drink water even though you do, ...
If it is raining, consider wearing a hat with a visor so it is easier for you to see, Terrell said. Hats or thin balaclavas can also help to keep you warm because a lot of heat is lost through the head, Fleeter added. And do not forget gloves and warm (perhaps wool) socks: When your body is cold, blood moves away from your extremities to keep your core warm, so hands and feet (and ears) are vulnerable to frostbite, Terrell noted.

Make sure you have the right shoes for the weather, too, Goldwaser said. When it is raining, snowing, or icy, you will want shoes with prominent tread on the bottom to ensure good traction. (That said, if it is quite icy or snowy out, you may well want to stay home, according to Fleeter.)

Prepare and nourish your body
When exercising in low temperatures, continue to hydrate even if you do not feel thirsty, Fleeter said. When cold, the body releases a hormone called vasopressin that constricts blood vessels and also inhibits thirst, so you may not feel like you need to drink water even though you do, he explained. Also, when you exercise in the cold, your body burns extra calories to stay warm, so you may want to eat a bit more than usual to keep your energy up, he added.

Be sure to stretch your muscles before an outdoor winter workout, Goldwaser said, because muscles and ligaments are prone to tearing when they are cold. He recommended dynamic stretches, which gently and briefly stretch various muscle groups. Dynamic stretches can be safer than static stretches, which you hold for longer periods of time, he said, because static stretches can stress cold muscles.

Know when to stay home
Never exercise outdoors during a thunderstorm, Goldwaser said. The chance that you could be struck by lightning is small but significant enough to merit caution. Terrell suggested checking the weather forecast before an outdoor excursion to be sure that bad weather is not expected. If you do occasionally need to move your workout indoors, “have a plan B”, Terrell advised, so that you can still get some exercise. I do barre videos in my basement, for instance.

Fleeter said that you should never exercise outside when the temperature or windchill is below minus 23 degrees Celsius because the risk for frostbite is high. You may also want to stay inside when it is slightly warmer, depending on what you will be doing. If you are bicycling, you will encounter wind, which will make you feel colder, Fleeter said. He advises people not to ride bikes below about minus nine degrees, and not to run at temperatures below minus 15 degrees.

With so many new safety strategies in my toolbox, I am excited to keep walking outside throughout the winter — but I will not forgo my common sense, either. On especially nasty and frigid days, I will grit my teeth through plié squats instead.

“Be smart about Mother Nature,” Terrell said. “She usually wins.”

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