Small adjustments can heat up exercising in cold temperatures

  • Published
  • By Mike W. Ray
  • Tinker Public Affairs
With scorching summer temperatures finally giving way to cooler weather, a few sensible adjustments in clothing and exercise habits are recommended by fitness specialists at Tinker Air Force Base.

"The weather here in Oklahoma provides nearly year-round running conditions, and with just a little consistent cold-weather training your body will easily adapt to the lower temperatures," Fitness Evaluator Ralph Humphrey said.

Airmen, especially, need to modify their routine because they must undergo fitness assessments twice a year, and running at an outside track is part of the test.

"We saw a spike in run failures during the cold-weather season last year, because of the temperatures," Humphrey said. Many Airmen had stopped training outside and consequently they were unaccustomed to the cold weather, he explained.

"You wouldn't study a math book for a biology test, so don't turtle-up in the gym all winter," he advised. "Hit the track and enjoy the crisp, cold air."

Make it "safe and social," Health Fitness Specialist Chris Millsap suggested.

"Run with a buddy or join a group; that will provide a built-in source of motivation, a friend to chat with along the route, and it's safer to run in numbers," he said.

Tips for avoiding hypothermia, dehydration or frostbite
· Run close to home or work area and do multiple loops.
· Do shorter runs of no more than 30 minutes at a time.
· Always consider the wind chill as well as the temperature and wind speed.
· Observe the wind direction, so you run with the wind on the way back.
· Switch to mid-day runs when it's warmer outside.
· Pre-heat clothing in a dryer, and warm your body indoors with a warm-to-hot shower or exercise before going outside.
· Pre-heat shoes with a five-minute blast of warm air from a hair dryer (hold it a foot away) to warm your feet as you head out the door.
· Wet weather conducts heat more rapidly than air does, which means the heat you generate dissipates quickly. Wear a shell with a breathable base under it to let moisture and perspiration escape.
· It's important to hydrate well in cold and hot weather alike.
· Your body temperature starts dropping as soon as you stop running. Therefore, it's important to remove wet clothes as soon as possible during cold-weather runs, to avoid risk of hypothermia.
· For an extra post-cold-run boost, stash a thermos in your vehicle with warm, non-caffeinated drinks, and consume the steaming liquid as soon as you've finished running. This will keep your core temperature normal.
· After an outdoor workout, take off the running shoes and slip on dry socks and shoes as quickly as possible.
· Potential injuries from inadequate clothing in cold or wet weather include chilblain (resulting from bare skin exposed to cold, humid air); immersion foot (also known as trench foot, resulting from wet feet); frostbite; hypothermia (whole body temperature dangerously low); and dehydration.
· Avoid alcoholic beverages, because alcohol impairs the body's ability to shiver.
· Avoid tobacco products, because they decrease blood flow to the skin.

Recommended cold-weather clothing
· A thin balaclava to cover the head, face and ears. Nearly one-quarter of your body heat escapes through your head.
· Mittens, which keep hands warmer than gloves do, by creating a warm air pocket around your entire hand.
· Wool blend socks, especially in snowy, sloppy conditions. Wool retains its insulating properties, even when it's wet, because of air pockets in the fiber that trap warm air.
· A lightweight windbreaker.
· A long front zipper, which allows you to control how much heat to keep next to your body. Convert a jacket to a vest, and back again, with removable sleeves for easy changes for body temperature.
· Tights or wind pants and long socks will protect your legs. Avoid traditional sweat pants or sweat shirts, because they will soak up moisture and hold it against your body, making it harder for you to stay warm.
· Winter shoes. When shopping, ask the store staff for a pair with EVA foam cushioning, the material least affected by cold; as temperatures plummet, the shock absorption of shoes decreases and can result in injury.
· If you don't want to buy new shoes, insulate vented shoes with duct tape.
· Dress for 15 to 20 degrees warmer than the temperature outdoors. Dressing lightly allows for your body temperature to increase as you run. You want to feel chilled at the start; if you're warm and it's cold outside, you're overdressed.
· Ensure clothes do not have holes or broken zippers.
· When using cold-weather clothing, remember C-O-L-D: keep it Clean, avoid Overheating, wear it Loose in layers, and keep it Dry.

Tips for maneuvering through environmental hazards
· Even soft surfaces such as grass can freeze and become hard in the winter. If you've got a bum knee or a history of shin splints, it's probably best to alternate outside runs with treadmill running or cross-training activities.
· Perform an extended warm-up, because cold temperatures restrict blood flow and cause muscles to contract and even cramp. Old injuries can resurface easily, too, if you don't perform an extended warm-up.
· Use a slower pace until your body is properly warmed after 10 to 15 minutes in the weather.
· Shorten your stride when running on areas that may have ice or snow, to help prevent slipping and falling. Also, running on snow and ice requires a lot more energy.
· Be visible if you run in the dark hours: wear a reflective vest or flashing lights so you're seen in traffic. Wear bright clothing in snowy weather. Run with an ID or a runner's ID in your shoe, just in case.