Winterizing Your Workouts
Shorter days, longer nights, colder temperatures -- they all
signal the coming of winter. For many , the season means spending time in front
of the fireplace drinking hot cocoa. But for enthusiasts of outdoor sports,
winter can mean interminable months of waiting for the return of spring and a
suffocating case of cabin fever.
But whether your sport of choice is kayaking, hiking, biking,
or running, experts say that with the proper equipment and clothing,
outdoor-loving people don't need to give up their favorite recreations. Just be
cautious: Failing to heed good sense or to prepare properly can put life and
limb at risk -- even at moderate temperatures.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
"Most deaths from hypothermia occur between 30 and 50
degrees Fahrenheit," says William Forgey, MD, former president of the
Wilderness Medical Society in Colorado Springs. "If you get below 55
degrees and you have wet cotton on you, you cannot keep up with the heat loss.
If you're wearing almost anything else, you'll be okay."
Hypothermia hits when a person's body temperature drops below
95 degrees. Among its signs are slurred speech, mental confusion, slowed
breathing and heartbeat, and an inability to walk in a straight line.
"It's very much like being drunk," says Forgey, who
notes that most U.S. deaths due to hypothermia occur among the homeless.
Take precautions against frostbite and windburn as well, says
Brian Halpern, MD, of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Halpern explains that sensitive areas, such as the genitals, and exposed areas,
like the hands and face, are susceptible to frostbite -- freezing of body
And it doesn't take long to feel the effects of the cold.
Skiers should take into account the speed of a downhill run, which can add a
windchill factor to already low temperatures. Long hikes and other long outdoor
activities can lead to a slow, continual loss of body temperature. People who
dabble in water sports are especially at risk if they become immersed in cold
water, which can lead to rapid cooling.
Clothes: Old-fashioned and High-tech
Wearing the right types of clothes can make a big difference.
Experienced whitewater kayakers wear synthetic materials such as polypropylene
or fleece underneath a dry suit designed to provide a nearly watertight seal
around the body. The result is a cozy cocoon, even on icy days.
Forgey advocates the old-fashioned method of layering clothes
-- the thinnest layer usually going against the skin. Materials that will pull
the sweat away from the skin and let it evaporate are best: high quality wool,
polypropylene, and polyester. He advises against wearing silk, acrylic, and
cotton, which hold moisture.
Food and Liquids
Cold weather tends to increase your need for calories, says
Bruce C. Paton, MD, professor emeritus of surgery at the University of Colorado
and past president of the Wilderness Medical Society. But the increase is only
significant if you're into the most strenuous activities. Unless you're
tackling a mountain, says Paton, "for most people, eating their regular
diet is fine."
Stay away from alcoholic fluids. Despite the popular image of
alcohol warming the soul on a cold day, doctors advise cold-weather
sportspeople to abstain while working out outdoors. Nicholas DiNubile, MD, a
member of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, says alcohol
actually causes the body to lose heat more rapidly. The alcohol opens up the
vessels in the skin and extremities, exposing the heat in the blood to the
Drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated while
out in the cold dry air, advises Paton. Cross-country skiers, for example, can
lose about a quart of sweat an hour. Outdoor exercisers should drink four to
six liters of water per day. Drink water even if you don't feel thirsty, Paton
says -- by the time you're thirsty, you may already be dehydrated.