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Tips for Exercising in
Winter, Staying Active in
Cold Weather


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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Staying Active in New England's
Cold Weather
By Sherry Ballou Hanson

Northern New England winters bring many exercisers indoors, but those who
prefer to brave the elements to run, walk, cross-country ski or snow shoe
need to learn how to prepare for their activity.

Experts from L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Programs and Maine's Bowdoin
College’s Outing Club stress the crucial importance of two factors: clothing
and hydration. The folks at the American Running and Fitness Association
(AR&FA) add a note of caution about frostbite and hypothermia.

Dress in Layers

“Most people overdress in winter,” says Phil Savignano at L.L. Bean. The
easiest way to avoid overheating, yet not get chilled, is to wear layers of
lightweight apparel. Your inner layer should wick moisture away from the
skin so that it can evaporate. Synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene are
good choices for next to the skin. The middle layer, or warmth layer, is to
insulate and should also be synthetic, not cotton. Turtlenecks, even fleece
garments, make excellent middle layers which can be stripped off. Savignano
especially likes tops with neck zippers that can be zipped up or unzipped to
regulate body temperature. Your outer layer, the wind layer, should be
breathable and wind-proof. Gore-Tex brand jackets and pants, being
waterproof, are great for rain and snow.

“Remember the three W’s, wicking, warmth and wind,” says Savignano, who
refers to this formula as Personal Climate Control. Depending on air
temperature and wind chill you can add or remove extra layers between your
wicking garments and the outer wind-proof clothing. It is not a good idea to
put on so much clothing that you perspire heavily; this is why you dress in
layers. Unzip or take off clothing as you warm up.
Remember, too, that up to 40% of your body heat can escape through your
head. Take a hat with you; you can always take it off. TIP: Remember your
layers: wicking, warmth and wind.

Hydrate Properly

“Hydration, hydration, hydration,” says
Lucretia Woodruff at Bowdoin College’s
Outing Club. “The number one thing in
winter is hydration. The body can’t
regulate temperature really well
in winter.” Hypothermia is a real danger,
and is related to fluid balance in the
body. According to Woodruff, something
like 95% of hypothermia cases start out before their activity dehydrated.
People forget to drink water, but hot chocolate and coffee will actually
increase dehydration because they contain caffeine. Hot chocolate tastes great
in the cold, but make sure you have taken in enough water before your
activity. Savignano, a cross-country skier for 35 years, drinks two glasses of
water before going on a ski outing, and drinks a few sips every 20 minutes or
so along the trail. TIP: Drink, drink, drink, and carry water too!

Stay Alert & Dress for Defense

Don’t assume that the car coming toward you sees you just because you are
running or cross-country skiing in the road. Winter weather changes the
safety rules for outdoor exercise. Fewer daylight hours, icy roads and falling
snow interfere with a driver’s visibility. Avoid high traffic areas and wear
bright clothing and/or reflective strips on arms and legs. Savignano
recommends reflective gloves and jackets.

If you share your cross-country ski trail or favorite snow shoe route with
snow mobiles, don’t assume drivers will see you in time to react. Wear
something reflective, and finish your workout before dusk. The number of
snow mobiles on the loose in Maine continues to climb. TIP: Dress for
Defense. Don’t assume you will be seen on the road or the trail.

Beware of Frostbite & Hypothermia

While the possibility of frozen lungs during outdoor activity is unfounded,
true dangers include frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite usually occurs on
outer body areas such as fingers, toes, ears, and face when your skin
temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice crystals can form on the
skin or tissue underneath after prolonged exposure to cold weather. Wear
mittens rather than gloves so that fingers can keep each other warm. Wear
extra socks, or insulated insoles. Sock liners of Polypropylene are helpful,
too, say experts at AR&FA.

Hypothermia can sneak up on you. When your internal body temperature
drops by one or more degrees you may notice slurred speech and intense
shivering, accompanied by loss of coordination and, eventually,
disorientation, say the people at AR&FA. Hypothermia is life threatening and
requires medical attention immediately. Don’t stay out there on the road or
trail until you are cold. TIP: If you get chilled, get indoors as quickly as
possible. If you are still out on the trail, strip off the wet shirt and put on a
dry one.

Stay the Course!

Winter exercise demands greater personal motivation than any other time of
year, as this writer is well aware! To maintain enthusiasm, set goals. Start an
activity log and enter your outings. Reward yourself periodically for
achieving an active and safe winter by purchasing an item that will enhance
your active lifestyle. Track your progress by time or distance, but not both.
Poor conditions may require you to run slower on a given day. Runners often
have to bypass this activity and substitute snow shoes or cross-country skis.
  
Don’t get rigid about your exercise routine because blizzards, holiday
celebrations and darkness can spell failure for the individual who has no
“plan B” for those times. Cross training with running, snow shoeing and
cross-country skiing will allow you to accommodate most weather. Use the
winter months, too, to work on muscular strength. Good indoor activities to
supplement, or substitute on bad weather days, include circuit training,
swimming or aerobics at a gym, exercise videos, a stationary bike or stair-
stepper in your home. TIP: Don’t quit. Spring will come!

About the author:
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Sherry Ballou Hanson has published hundreds of
articles in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and
on line publications Sherry was a Health
Correspondent for drkoop.com in 2001. She also
wrote the Mid-Coast chapter or Fodor’s Travel
Publications, Inc.'s 2005 Gold Guide, Maine Coast.
Sherry lives in Brunswick, Maine, and in her spare
time, enjoys walking, hiking, inline skating, biking,
kayaking, skiing, archery, writing, reading and star
gazing.