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  • Writer's pictureMary Brooking

It’s cold outside….

Exercising in the cold requires extra preparation to account for the body needing to generate enough heat to keep warm and to have to work harder to perform in harsher environment. This preparation, including mental preparation, is easier when seasons shift and temperature drops slowly but when there is a sudden cold spike it can feel a real shock.

Impact can be significant Cold temperatures decrease the blood and skin temperature, which prompts the body to constrict skin blood vessels so less heat is lost as blood is kept away from the body surface. Skeletal muscles shiver to give them activity to generate heat so body temperature can increase. The body uses less fat as a fuel and more carbohydrate and our thirst sense decreases. Cold habitation happens when over time we are exposed to the cold without significant heat loss so we adapt and our core temperate can decrease a little without triggering shivering and vasoconstriction. This hasn’t had the chance to happen on the first cold day of Winter so the cold affects us more now than it will just before Spring starts. When its an emergency Hypothermia, where a drop in body temperature becomes dangerous, risk increases with fatigue and energy depletion. Children, with their high surface area to mass ratio are at higher risk than adults. It should be treated as an emergency and immediate action required includes removing any wet clothes (including those wet from sweat), wrapping them up well in warm, dry clothes or blankets, moving them to as sheltered or warm a location as possible, giving them warm non-alcoholic sugary drinks and food, keeping them awake and seeking medical attention. Layer up

It's ideal to have multiple layers of clothing so you can be versatile: a light sweat wicking base layer, breathable fleece, windproof jacket with ventilation. Important that sweat can escape so it doesn’t leave you exercising in wet clothing that will get cold as soon as you stop and promote greater heat loss.

Hats & gloves

Don’t forget extremities! Our bodies are sending blood away from the skin so areas like hands, toes and scalp can get painfully cold.

Sugary snacks

Our bodies use more carbs and less fat as fuel in the cold, and energy depletion contributes to reduced ability to shiver and therefore starting to feel really cold. It's better to take a snack and not use it than need one you haven’t got. If it's really cold think what won’t get too solid to be able to easily chew and therefore digest.


You still need to drink

With a diminished thirst response due to the cold and the need for fluid being less obvious it’s easy in winter to get dehydrated. Make an effort to think about drinking and if it makes it easier put a warm drink in your bottle.


Warm up extra well

A warm up is always important but as blood flow to muscles is reduced in the cold and joints can become stiffer it’s even more critical that you warm up in Winter. Start with gentle activity to raise heart rate and muscle temperature eg jog or spin, and continue with a dynamic warm up rather than static stretches.


Winterise your equipment

Whether its putting mudguards on your bike and reducing tyre pressure a little or making sure you have good grip on your trainers to cope with mud and the wet give your gear a check to make sure it's right for the conditions outside.


Be safe

If the winter means being out in the dark think about having reflective/hi-vis clothing and lights. Batteries don’t work well in the cold so make sure phone and lights are fully charged before you head out.


Make a plan

Heading out into the chill can take extra motivation, so preparing in advance can make it easier to both leave the house and have a positive experience in the cold. There is more kit needed, so have it ready or easy to find so exercise time isn’t wasted. Start warming up inside if possible. Keep breaks or stops shorter so muscles don’t cool down too much and sweat doesn’t leave you in wet clothing. Don’t forget the huge impact wind chill can have on heat loss so be sure to check wind as well as temperature forecast and dress accordingly.



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