The world keeps on turning, and the seasons don’t care that you planned on running or cycling before dumping a thick, cold blanket of white shit… I mean, snow all over the area you live in. Since humans have evolved to become sedentary creatures, we have to adapt to the ever-changing climates of whatever hemisphere we happen to reside in. In Saskatchewan, for example, we deal with basically half of the year with snow. If one waited for balmier weather to train outdoors, we’d be losing out on many months of potential fitness.
This is why it’s important not to let the snowy season get to you and not hesitate to enjoy the great outdoors despite the weather. This doesn’t mean that you should go jogging in -50 degree snowstorms, of course. And there are a number of things one needs to consider before heading outdoors. How will your workout be different? What effects might it have on your blood sugar? Why the hell do your lungs burn when they breathe in cold air? These and more, are all important questions that should be asked and answered before you head outside.
Let’s address that burning sensation in your chest when you hit the outdoors. According to RunnersWorld.com, “The burning sensation you feel when breathing in cold air is probably due to the combination of heat and water exchange that is occurring early in the inspiration of cold, dry air.” The article continues by explaining that the sensation will typically go away after a few breaths, but it’s an important consideration if you intend on performing any level of cardio exercise in winter conditions.
Further, basic biology tells us that cold with cause tissue to contract and narrow. In addition to drying out your breathing passages quicker than your body can keep up, this can make it a bit harder to breathe. Personally, I’ve never understood the attraction to cycling in the winter and I hate running at the best of times. But I’ve found myself running in colder conditions during training for belt test and things of that sort.
Next, let’s define two very important terms that people tend to use interchangeably: frostbite and hypothermia. Amazingly, people often confuse these two but they happen in very different circumstances and it’s also possible to have one without the other. I won’t go into incredibly deep details, but in the interest of understanding the difference, here is a simple definition to both.
Hypothermia is defined as a condition where the core temperature of your body dips below 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). This is caused by prolonged exposure to cold weather where you start to lose body heat faster than your body can replace it. Once hypothermia sets in, a person will begin to shiver uncontrollably and feel confused. That confusion will worsen as one’s core temperature continues to drop. This is especially dangerous for someone with Diabetes as low blood sugar will increase one’s risk of hypothermia. Being under the influence of alcohol will also increase that risk. A person suffering from hypothermia (at least the mild version) can be treated by simply being taken out of the cold environment, removing wet clothing and slowly warming them with blankets and warm beverages.
Frostbite is defined as the freezing of bodily tissue or evaporation of the tissue’s moisture. The difference with this condition is that unless it’s extremely mild (a condition referred to as frosting) you’ll likely need to seek medical attention to help treat it. It can be noted by the fact that your skin will start to feel cold before going numb. Tissue will then go stiff and start to change colour from red to white before hardening. Milder forms of frostbite can be treated and may not leave permanent tissue damage. But severe frostbite can result in the death of tissues and nerve damage. Nice, eh? It’s usually caused by being exposed to cold weather for too long and can be a greater risk for folks with poor circulation (like Diabetics).
The last winter condition I’ll bring up, is sunlight. There’s this crazy, unspoken belief that when it’s cold outside, the sun doesn’t cause the same level of damage as on a hot, sandy beach. Although the latter would be more pleasant than running in the snow, sunlight is sunlight. If you’re outside on a clear, sunny day, UV rays are still striking your flesh with the same voracity as during the summer. Although there can be SOME variation due to conditions in the atmosphere during winter months, you still need to take steps to protect your bare skin. Using an adequate sunblock during the winter may sound weird, but you can still suffer sunburns and skin damage due to the sun.
Wouldn’t it suck to get a sunburn AND frostbite/hypothermia at the same time? Honestly, all of these can be prevented by simply taking appropriate preventative measures. Dress in layers, including a moisture-wicking garment, cotton overskirt and an appropriate coat in order to prevent hypothermia. Take breaks from the cold and don’t stay outside longer than is comfortable. Some people think that shivering and wanting to seek shelter puts them in the wimp category, but your body will tell you when you’ve had enough cold.
Don’t be afraid to put some sunblock on bare skin and even wear a good pair of sunglasses to prevent damage to your eyes from snow glare. The snow will magnify and reflect the sun’s rays and it can play hell with your eyes. Last but not least, and as usual, make certain to check your blood sugars regularly and keep some fluids and fast-acting carbohydrates on hand. Just in case. And even if you CAN do some limited martial arts training outside in the snow, all the same conditions as listed above will apply. ☯