When the winter months arrive, bringing with them colder temperatures and fewer hours of daylight, it’s enough to make even the toughest exerciser head indoors. But for those of you that are tough enough to endure the chilly weather—you know who you are—you’ll likely encounter at least a few of the season’s unique difficulties. Between tight muscles, stiff joints, sniffles and toes that are numb, staying active in the cold is anything but easy.
So, despite your dedication to staying active, if you think exercising in the cold bites, listen up. Kristie Willhoit, MS, Fitness Specialist with GMC’s Sports Medicine Program, provides easy ways to overcome some of the most common cold-weather annoyances.
1. You’re either too hot or too cold. When it’s chilly outside, layers are your best friend—you can take things off or add on as needed. However, even when you dress in layers, it’s still hard to find that perfect temperature.
Solution: It may sound obvious, but before heading out for your activity, make sure to check the weather. This doesn’t just mean looking at the temperature. Check to see what the humidity is and whether or not it’s overcast, as both of these things will make it feel colder. To avoid a cold start to your workout, warm up indoors to get your blood flowing. And don't forget to throw on a sleeveless vest while you’re at it.
2. The cold air hurts your throat. If your throat is moist and warm, rapidly breathing in cold air comes as quite a shock to your body. Surprisingly, though, it isn’t actually the coldness of the air that’s the problem—it’s the dryness. When you’re mouth-breathing instead of nose-breathing your body doesn’t have a chance to filter, warm or humidify the air. This can irritate your throat and cause coughing for hours after.
Solution: If you’re not battling the sniffles and can handle breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, that’s the best way to minimize throat irritation. But if you’re a tried and true mouth-breather, try wearing a scarf or bandana around your nose and mouth to keep in some of the moisture and warmth.
3. Your runny nose just won’t quit. The same magic your nose uses to warm and moisturize the cold winter air for your lungs is the same thing that causes it to run. So, when the air is especially cold and dry, your nose is working overtime to create moisture.
Solution: While it isn’t exactly glamorous, one of the best things to do to battle a runny nose is to bring tissues with you. But if that feels like a nuisance, you can try putting some petroleum jelly around your nose; this will give your nose the illusion of more moisture and will prevent chapping.
4. Your muscles and joints feel tighter than normal. No—it isn’t just your imagination. The cold temperatures cause muscles to tighten up and lose elasticity, both of which can make injury more likely. On top of that, it isn’t just your muscles that feel the chill; your nerves are affected, too, making it difficult to sense pain or discomfort at the first sign.
Solution: You’ve already heard it, but it’s worth saying again: take the time to warm up. Not only will you have a better, more enjoyable workout, but it will prevent injury. By doing a gradual warm-up for at least 10 minutes, starting indoors and continuing outdoors, you’re helping to up blood flow to your muscles, tendons and joints, which will minimize your risk for injury.
The key is to perform movements that utilize all your major muscle groups and take your joints through their full ranges of motion—think body weight squats, straight-leg kicks, torso twists, arm circles and side lunges.
Conquer the cold.
GMC’s established Sports Medicine program is focused on transforming the way you exercise. Our experts work to shift your focus away from difficulties to goals, from discomfort to confidence, from injury to strength. This is made possible with our extensive range of services, our knowledgeable specialists and numerous resources. You don’t compromise on exercise, so don’t compromise on care.