Prevent Cold-Weather Injuries with Proper Winter Gear

Must Haves for Winter Fitness

winter fitness tips

For many people, winter means stowing their fitness gear and packing on the pounds until the spring thaw. But this year, holiday overindulgence and staying indoors doesn’t have to be your destiny. While cold-weather injuries and illnesses can occur, these safety tips about proper outdoor workout apparel will keep you healthy while you’re outdoors enjoying the benefits of year-round exercise.

Prevent Hypothermia With Proper Layering

Winter brings cold, wet and windy weather… surefire conditions for hypothermia. When the body’s temperature drops to 95⁰F (35⁰C), you start to shiver. Cold muscles become weak and diminish endurance. With prolonged exposure to cold this can progress to disorientation (including hallucination), cardiac arrhythmia with weak pulse, shallow breathing and eventually loss of consciousness.

Layering your clothing will help retain body heat. Wear a wicking underlayer (such as a silk, Polartec® base or Merino wool thermal shirt and leggings) against your skin, a middle fleece or Polartec® layer to trap warm air, and an outer shell to block the wind. As your body heats up, you will need to shed layers to prevent overheating. As you cool down, you’ll have the option to put on warm clothes to stay comfortable.

In wet conditions, the outer shell must be waterproof. This does cut down on the breathability of the fabric, though, which is what allows sweat to evaporate. Parkas, even those with ThinsulateTM lining, are often too bulky for comfortable exercise. It’s better to wear a few thinner layers that trap warm air than a single fluffy down coat or parka.
If you’re exercising in the dark, be sure the outer layer has reflective tape or fabric sewn into it.

Prevent Cold-Related Injury With Extra Gear

Exposing your skin to cold and wind may result in the formation of ice crystals in the cells. Damage can also occur due to lack of circulation because the body is trying to conserve heat energy by constricting the blood flow to the extremities. Frostbite is serious since it can lead to death of the tissues.

To avoid these injuries, cover your nose and face with a scarf or balaclava. The balaclava doubles as a lightweight hat too, with ear and neck protection. Neck gaiters keep blasts of arctic air from entering around your collar. Unlike a turtleneck, this gear is easily removed when you get too warm.

Ears should be covered with a hat, earmuffs or a headband with built-in earflaps. EarPopsTM, which fit over each ear individually, offer the convenience of keeping ears warm without a hat or headband.

Glove liners worn under mittens are the best way to keep hands protected. If you need manual dexterity, insulated and waterproof gloves are a must. Some long-sleeved shirts have fold-over cuffs and/or a thumb hole to keep hands warm. These are convenient, but don’t really provide enough warmth or protection if the ambient temperatures are below freezing or if it’s wet.

Keep your toes toasty with sock liners and calf-length woolen socks in your ski boots and thick-soled shoes that are insulated and waterproof. Buy your winter sports shoes a little larger than summer running shoes to accommodate those extra layers of insulation. The soles of winter running gear have better traction in icy conditions. Running flats are not appropriate for winter running.

Keep Exercise-Induced Asthma at bay

Dry, cold air dehydrates the airways, especially with mouth breathing. Exercise-induced asthma presents itself as shortness of breath, coughing/wheezing, and tightness in the chest without true bronchospasm, which is characteristic in chronic asthmatics.

The best way to avoid drying the airways is to breathe through the nose. Protect your nose and warm your breath by wearing a balaclava or scarf made from quick-drying fabric.

Prevent Sun Damage Even When It’s Cold

UV rays penetrate cloud cover and snowy conditions act as mirrors, reflecting ambient sunlight. Eyes and skin are both vulnerable to sun damage in the winter just as much as in the summer. Sun blindness, resulting from sunburn to the corneas of the eyes, is a temporary and painful condition that, over time, can lead to more permanent damage. Sun exposure also causes cataracts and macular degeneration.

Ideally, you should wear wrap-around style sunglasses (with 100% UVA and UVB protection) to prevent light leakage over the top or around the sides. A hat with a brim will add even more protection

A sunburn on the face, neck and hands lays the foundation for future skin cancers, not to mention cosmetically undesirable discoloration and wrinkling. Chapped, cracked skin experienced during winter months is a painful problem that can become serious if the wounds become infected.

Prevent sunburn with sunscreen on all exposed skin, especially the cheekbones, nose, back of the neck and tops of the ears. Apply lip balm and heavy duty emollients such as salves or thick creams to moisturize the lips and hands.

Properly prepare for your outdoor workout and you may be surprised how much you enjoy your winter workouts.

Jodai Saremi

Jodai Saremi, DPM, BS , is a freelance writer, AFAA certified trainer, and fitness model. She has written for American Fitness, SPIN fitness, Your Health Connection magazines, and other online publications. Her articles have also been featured in textbooks. She enjoys an active lifestyle and lives in Ventura County, Calif. with her husband and two children.

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