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Preparing to Exercise Outside in All Kinds of Weather

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Mar 12, 2019

You love your exercise routine. You feel physically, mentally, and emotionally better when you make time every week, or even every day, to exercise. One of the things that can throw a monkey wrench into your routine is the weather.

When temperatures are extreme--either unbearably hot or bitterly cold, or it’s raining, snowing, or really windy, it’s understandable that you’d prefer to stay indoors, while also be annoyed at not being able to get outside. We have some suggestions to help you exercise safely in all kinds of weather.


Exercising in Inclement and Cold Weather

Whether it’s snowing in the winter, or raining or windy any time of year, there are several steps that you can take that will allow you to not break with your exercising routine.

Step 1: Dress to keep yourself dry

While we often think about keeping warm when going outside in the cold, when you’re planning to exercise, it’s more important to keep yourself dry. If it’s raining or snowing, getting wet will cause you to lose body heat quickly, and you’ll increase your chances of getting hypothermia (your core body temperature drops below 95°F) or frostbite.

Dress in clothes made from synthetic fibers synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, and polypropylene). These dry quickly and wick moisture away from your body, unlike cotton, which absorbs it.

Step 2: Dress in layers

You want to keep warm air next to your skin to keep you warm, so wearing layers is important. If it’s cold, you’ll want to first dress in a thin layer that wicks away moisture, and then a midlayer of something a bit warmer, like fleece.

Finally, you’ll want a third layer that blocks the wind, snow, and rain, whether that’s a windbreaker or a heavier rain jacket. You’ll also be able to remove layers as you warm up.

Step 3: Dress in bright colors

Regardless of the weather, if you’re going to be out exercising, it’s always wise to dress in bright colors so that you can be seen by motorists if you’re near roadways and other people if you are in wooded areas.

Wearing reflective bands or a headlamp or other lights is an additional way to make yourself visible, and lights can illuminate your path. Bright colors and reflective bands are especially necessary if you are running in the rain or snow when visibility is already limited.

Step 4: Protect your hands, feet, ears, and eyes

If it’s cold, blood is concentrated toward your body’s core, leaving your hands, feet, and ears vulnerable to the extreme temperature. Wear a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. You can remove the outer pair when your hands begin to sweat.

To keep your feet warm, you might want to purchase exercise shoes that are a half-size or one size larger than you usually wear so that you can comfortably wear thicker thermal socks or multiple pairs of your regular ones.

Finally, wear a headband to protect your ears and a hat to cover your head. A scarf or ski mask can help keep your face protected. If you are going skiing, make sure to wear the proper helmet. Goggles can help protect your eyes from ice or snow glare, no matter what kind of exercising you’re doing.

Step 5: Protect your skin

To protect yourself from winter dryness, make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially before and after you exercise. You’ll also want to make sure that you put on lotion to help your skin stay moisturized.

Don’t forget the sunscreen, either! You should wear it all year to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. Finally, wear a lip balm with sunscreen. Keep in mind that UV exposure increases with altitude.

Step 6: Don’t forget about traction

If you’re going to be exercising when it’s slippery out, you want to make sure that you decrease the likelihood that you’ll slip and fall. Workout on paths that have been salted or sanded, rather than on your usual dirt path through the park.

Snow spikes or ice spikes can help your feet grip snowy, icy paths, but keep in mind that they can’t be used on concrete. They work by piercing the snow, and so can hinder your balance when walking or running on concrete.

Step 7: Warm up and cool down

You want to both prepare your body for exercising in extreme temperatures and then help it recover once you’ve finished. All warm-ups should include low-intensity movements that mimic the exercise you’re about to perform.

Jeff Galloway, a former Olympic runner, suggests that for your cool downs, lessen your intensity during the final 5 to 10 minutes of your routine. Once your breathing and heart rate normalize, repeat your warm-up and do some static stretching. After you cool down, make sure to get out of your damp clothes immediately.

Exercising in the Heat

It can be just as uncomfortable to exercise in the heat as in the cold. You can and should take many of the same steps in the summer that you do in the winter:

  • Warm up and cool down

  • Keep your skin protected

  • Make sure that you stay hydrated: Drink 2 cups of water two hours before going outside to exercise and sip about 4 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes while outdoors to prevent muscle fatigue and heat exhaustion.

Step 1: Dress is loose clothing that is light colored

You don’t want to trap air close to your body, so wearing moisture-wicking clothing that draws sweat away from your skin is a must, as is clothing that allows air to circulate.

Clothing that is light colored will reflect the sun, rather than absorb its heat. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. A hat with a brim also protects your eyes as well as your head and keeps the sweat out of your eyes.

Step 2: Carefully choose when and where to exercise

If you can, exercise before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m.when the heat is less intense. Exercise in the shade to mitigate some of the effects of the sun and heat. If you are near a body of water, it will be a few degrees cooler there (though you still need to be mindful of the sun).

If there’s a heat advisory, so high ozone and air pollution, you should consider working out indoors.

Step 3: Pay attention to your body

If it’s extremely hot and/or humid, do a less-intense workout. Stop exercising if you begin to feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated, or if you develop have chills. These are possible signs of heat exhaustion.

Johnson Memorial Health is a sponsor of Rock the Block Run, an annual community fitness event that supports several local nonprofits. Click here to signup or volunteer.