It's better to embrace the cold weather than to curse it!

Before getting into today's challenge, it's a good time to catch up on your lifestyle progress.

If you have been following these LifeTime segments, the most important changes that you have made to your lifestyle include adding physical activity to your days, eating more vegetables and fruits, learning how to self-regulate and paying attention to your emotions, and setting appropriate goals while giving up on unattainable goals.

All of these strategies combined are likely to result in a more confident, healthier, and happier you in all aspects of your life. If you have missed segments, or forget the main premise of any of them, go back and re-read and watch/listen to the messages.

Relatedly, if you are trying to make small and achievable changes to your lifestyle, you have undoubtedly thought about adding more physical activity to your day. Maybe you have been doing this for some time, or maybe you made a recent resolution to do so…regardless, the cold winter weather is likely to be a big barrier to physical activity both because it may limit the type of activity you like to do, or make doing activity more difficult or less enjoyable.

The good news is that there are ways to conquer the weather – and doing so will probably lead to greater feelings of accomplishment and confidence. It all comes down to planning and preparation (have you heard that before?!) – dressing for the elements is the best defense against harm and injury, and makes winter weather bearable if not enjoyable! I have one word for you – layers.

The key to layering is based on heat exchange and controlling moisture. You want to have a base layer used to keep moisture at bay (best materials are wool or polyester), at least one insulating layer (think wool or fleece), and an outer shell to protect against the elements. See the specifics on layering in the downloadable document.

Also, since air is a very good insulator, layering allows you to have more pockets of air between your body and the elements. And, wearing multiple layers allows you to adjust the level of insulation you need during physical activity by removing and adding layers as needed.

One thing to keep in mind is to keep clothing snug for all layers. Baggy clothes trap warm air, but with every movement that air is forced out through the large openings. If you are not a big fan of sporting tights for your walk, try wearing shorts over your tights (yet another layering technique!).

Bottom line for layering: moderate-intensity exercise in relatively dry but cold weather (as cold as -30 degrees Celcius) can generate enough heat to maintain the body's core temperature without the need for thick and heavy clothing. Look for lighter-weight, functional materials and layer appropriately.

Also, people with higher amount of body fat will retain more body heat than individuals who have less body fat. So, leaner individuals might need more insulation. Layering is a personal choice and can make exercise more enjoyable and safe.

In addition to clothing, there are other "tools" that might be useful when exercising in the cold winter weather.

  • Winter traction devices (or crampons) are usually made of rubber and have metal points one the bottom to give you traction on ice (or snow). Traction is very important for walkers, joggers, and runners and gives confidence to people who are worried about balance on ice.
  • You could use short ski poles or walking/trekking sticks to help with balance while walking in the winter (or even to engage in Nordic walking, a great full-body exercise!). You want to use sticks that have a strap on the one end with the handle, preferably a metal spike on the other end, and that allow you to have a 90-degree angle at your elbow when the end of the stick is resting on the ground beside your small toe. If you are considering purchasing a trekking stick, talk to the experts at the sport/outdoor specialty shop to ensure you are buying the right pole(s) for your needs.
  • There are lots of varieties of chemical heat packs that you can get and "activate" to give you immediate heat where you need it. This is an inexpensive way of keeping your extremities warm.
  • There are many outdoor sports that you can do in the city or within close proximity – cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating to name a few– and you can rent the equipment for a day to get acquainted with the sport before purchasing your own equipment. Consider tubing and tobogganing as well; fun activities that involve moderate-to-vigorous physical activity walking back up the hills. Winter activity can bring out the child in all of us if we let it!

Some precautions to winter exercise

1) Engaging in physical activity in cold weather is relatively safe for healthy, consistent exercisers. However, if you have a history of heart disease or if you are out of shape, overweight, and suffer from high blood pressure, there may be higher risks to being physically active in the cold. This is because cold weather places added stress on the heart. There are ways of reducing the risks, such as warming up before going outside (reduces the immediate ‘jolt' to your system because you are warm, and reduces injuries because your muscles and joints get loose), starting your exercise slowly when you get out (gives your heart time to acclimatize to the cold), and wearing layers. Talk to your physician and/or a trained kinesiologist before starting any exercise program.


2) Stay hydrated. You might not feel the need to drink water when you are exercising in the cold, but fluids are as important in cold weather as they are in the heat. Dehydration can affect your body's ability to regulate heat. Also, if you are going outside to be physically active, try to avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages because they promote dehydration.

3) Pay attention to the temperatures you feel (your body) and see (the environment). Frostbite is a serious condition that you want to avoid. If you do go out in the extreme cold temperatures, end your workout early if it is snowing or freezing rain because this moisture and the cold temperatures increase the risk for frostbite. This condition is also exacerbated with high windchill factors (i.e., below –27C).

4) Eliminate your expectation that your athletic performance will match your warmer day work-outs. Focus on the process rather than outcome – physical activity in the snow and ice requires more energy expenditure, so you might go out for less time but you are likely to burn as many calories. Enjoy being outside while exercising, and think about all the people driving by or looking out of their windows thinking "now that is commitment to be working out in weather like this"

The current challenge:

The challenge for the next two weeks is for you get outside and do some physical activity – practice layering, use the clothes you already own and see how you do before considering spending big bucks on new clothes. You don't need to look like the big athletic companies sponsor you – you need to stay dry and warm to enjoy your time outdoors.


Cold Weather Layering