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How Cold is Too Cold to Exercise Outside?

Thinking about going for a walk in the snow, ice skating on a local pond, or hitting the slopes? Don’t let cold temperatures stop you. As long as you dress for the weather and take a few precautions, almost any day is a good day to work up a sweat in the great outdoors. Just be sure to check the forecast first.

“If the temperature with wind chill factor is 18 degrees below Fahrenheit or lower, it is too cold to be outside,” says Joseph Neel, an athletic trainer with Kettering Health Network. “In those conditions, frostbite can affect exposed skin in 30 minutes or less. If it’s around freezing or colder, you also have to be thinking about hypothermia, which happens when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Your risk of hypothermia is higher if your clothes get wet from rain, snow, or sweat.”

Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Layer for warmth

If you are ready to brave the cold, be sure to dress for success. “Cotton and heavy, tight-knit fabrics can trap the sweat next to your skin and make you feel chilled and clammy,” Neel explains. “You want clothing that is made from wicking fabrics—high-tech polyester that absorbs very little moisture.”

The moisture-wicking layer should go closest to your skin. On top of that should go a fleece or wool layer for warmth. If it’s raining or snowing, wear a light, waterproof jacket, too.

Wear a hat, gloves, and socks

When you are outside in cold weather, your body redirects blood flow from the head, hands, and feet to keep your internal organs warm. That’s why Neel recommends wearing:

  • A hat made of moisture-wicking fabric
  • Thin glove liners, plus a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece
  • Up to two pairs of socks: one nylon and the other wool

Choose shoes that protect

The right shoes are a must in icy and snowy conditions. “Make sure your shoes are waterproof and have good traction,” Neel explains. “You can even buy ice shoe covers, which stretch around your shoes or boots. They have metal spikes that grip the ground to keep you from slipping.”

Breathe easier with a scarf

Cold air can irritate the lining of your airway and lungs, especially if you have asthma. So be sure to wear a scarf or face mask, and use it to cover your mouth when it’s uncomfortably cold out. That way, you’ll breathe in warm, moist air.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated in cold weather is important, too. “You might not notice the symptoms of dehydration as quickly as you would when it’s hot out,” Neel says. “I tell people to drink water or sports drinks before, during, and after their workout, even if they aren’t thirsty.”

Safety first

If you are an older adult or have a health condition such as asthma, heart problems, or blood circulation issues, talk to your doctor before exercising in cold weather. You may need to take special precautions to protect yourself from injury.

Kettering Health Network offers adult exercise programs and sports enhancement training sessions to help you stay fit no matter what the weather. Learn more by calling (937) 395-3905.