I remember when I was in college at Northwestern. Lake Michigan in winter – Chicago, the windy city! My freshman year, we had a cold snap in which temps didn’t get out of negative double-digits for 2 weeks. Every winter saw a few weeks like that. Wind chills down to -45 or worse…-65. I grew up in the Midwest; I knew about winter. But I was sure that life stopped at numbers like that. The radio would announce the number of seconds it takes for exposed flesh to freeze at a given temperature.
Here in the Northeast we don’t really see those upper-Midwest, Great Lakes kinds of cold snaps. But it’s still darn cold. And a lot of what I learned from living on Lake Michigan in winter still serves me well.
First, a little more on proper dress. Layers! Layers are good. The bottom layer should be some sort of wicking material, something that will pull moisture away from your body and retain it’s ability to keep you warm even when damp. Cotton is not a good choice; it will get wet and stay wet. The last thing you want in the cold is some cold, soggy t-shirt next to your body. Wool or synthetic is better. They both breathe better, allowing sweat to evaporate, and they stay warm even when wet.
Don’t overdress, either – another reason layers are good. If you’re going to be active, you’ll be sweating. With layers, it’s easier to regulate your temperature. When I ran today, I had double layers of everything, but no heavy jacket on top. For my hike yesterday, I did add a jacket. If I were just standing around, I would have been freezing, but I was not just standing around. Today I was running – and, therefore, sweating. My layers allowed me to unzip one layer to keep from overheating without exposing bare skin. Bare skin is dangerous in temperatures like this (and colder). I put my watch over top of my shirts and gloves. I didn’t want to have to pull up my sleeve and expose my wrists to the cold just to check my mileage or the time.
Be sure to stay hydrated. You lose a lot of water in each exhalation. You might not feel parched in the same way you do in the heat, but hydration is just as important in the cold.
Make adjustments to your workout as necessary. Your heart is already working hard just keeping your body warm. Don’t try to set any records with speed or intensity. Moderate your workout so you don’t overstress your heart. My perceived exertion for the speed I was going was definitely higher than it would have been in more moderate temperatures – my muscles are cold and working harder, my heart is already pumping hard to keep those muscles and all my internal organs warm, so it will feel like I’m working a lot harder than I normally would. Because of that, I made some changes to my plans. I ran slower, walked some of the hills, and ran a couple miles less than I had planned.
Pay attention to how your body is feeling – especially your hands and feet! As your body gets cold, your heart makes adjustments to keep the most important parts warm. Your body will always work to preserve what is vital. If your core temperature begins to drop, your body begins to shunt blood flow away from extremities and toward your vital organs. Therefore, paying attention to numbness in your hands and feet is really important; it’s an early sign that your body is getting too cold, and it’s time to move inside.
This last bit is particularly important to anyone with chemo-induced neuropathy. If you have numbness in your hands or feet, you could miss one of the important tell-tale signs of danger. For you, it might be a good idea to stay indoors when the outdoors is in the deep freeze.
And finally, be extra careful of ice! Whether you’re walking on the sidewalk, cycling the streets, or running trails, watch for ice. You really don’t want to a.) slip and hit your head, knocking yourself unconscious, b.) skid into a busy intersection, or c.) break through the ice, taking an unexpected and very cold dip in the stream (I know about this last one – it’s no fun!)
Bottom line: make adjustments, modify your workout as necessary. At Life-Cise, I am always encouraging people to make the appropriate modifications. Whether it’s because of cancer treatments or surgeries, injury, or just extreme weather, it’s always better to make modifications than to risk injury or worse.
And if you do take the proper precautions and make the appropriate modifications, you might find some magic in the cold. In the words of Miroslav Holub, “Go and open the door….” (thanks, Gillian!)
Enjoy! And now for my hot chocolate….