March is a good time to get a jump-start on your spring workouts.
But it can be tough to motivate yourself to head outside. After all, it’s still winter, with bitter winds, freezing rain and cold mornings.
It’s so much easier to watch the weather from inside your warm home, right?
But South Jersey exercise fans say March’s habit of coming in like a lion shouldn’t be a deterrent to getting outside and getting in a good workout.
Jason Chew, a primary-care physician with AtlantiCare Primary Plus, said he and many of his patients often exercise year-round. Cold weather isn’t an excuse to skip a workout.
“I get bored when I work out inside,” he said. “The treadmill in the gym, the different machines, you can only do so much of it before you get bored.”
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week. That goes for outdoor workouts as well, which have advantages: There’s no heat and humidity to deal with, and the body is working harder to stay warm, so it’s burning more calories.
Chew gives his recommendations on how to beat the cold when you want to get in a good workout:
The first question you should ask yourself is, “is working out in the cold safe for me?”
Some people have medical conditions that would be exacerbated by cold weather, including asthma and Raynaud’s syndrome.
Cold air constricts lung muscles, which makes it harder to breathe. For someone with asthma, this may cause an exercise-induced asthma flair, Chew said.
The symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome may sound similar to those of frostbite — fingers and toes becoming cold, skin changing color to white or gray, and numbness or stinging when the skin warms back up — but Chew said not get the two confused.
“They are totally different,” Chew said. “Raynaud’s symptom is more benign, but frostbite can lead to more permanent damage.”
Check with a doctor before considering exercising in cold outdoor weather.
Check for chill
OK, you’re healthy enough to get your workout done in the cold. But how cold is it actually going to be?
Wind chill can be a sneaky deterrent to an outdoor workout. Even if you wear layers of clothes to keep you warm, it may not be enough if the wind chill reaches sub-zero temperatures.
“If the wind chill is less than zero, you may want to consider waiting or working out inside,” Chew said.
The Mayo Clinic Health System has similar recommendations when watching for wind chill temperatures.
If wind chill temperatures reach below -18 degrees, exposed skin can take on frostbite in 30 minutes, at the very most. The Mayo Clinic recommends “if the temperature dips below 0 degrees, or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor exercise instead.”
Dress for fitness
Multiple layers are the keys to success when working outdoors in cold temperatures.
Chew recommends at least three layers (which can always be removed if you heat up too quickly):
- An initial layer of a moisture-wicking fabric, such as a polypropylene or dri-fit shirt.
- A wool or fleece layer to keep in the warmth.
- A windbreaker or other jacket on top to keep winds at bay.
Cotton garments are not recommended for winter exercising, as moisture isn’t wicked away fast enough.
“Head, hands and feet,” Chew said, are the other key areas to cover. “Mittens always work better. Always cover your head, and then have some kind of face mask if it gets really cold, in the teens or 20s.”
Chew enjoys not only jogging in the winter, but surfing and paddling as well. That means a different uniform: A wetsuit. He said he even covers his face in Vaseline to keep icy waters away from his exposed skin.
Warm up before the cold
As with any workout — indoor or outdoor, cold weather or warm — Chew said warming up your muscles is important.
On really cold days, Chew said he will warm up in his house before braving the elements. Good warm ups can include jumping jacks, push ups, sit ups and stretching.
“Exercise helps with literally every health condition. Your immune system works better, you sleep better, it helps with your blood pressure,” he said. “Don’t skip the workout, even if it’s cold.”
Features reporter, Flavor magazine editor