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With Cold weather beginning to become normal for the St. Louis climate, it is always good to remember important tips and information about exercising outdoors when the temperature begins to drop. There are numerous positive health effects that result from exercising outdoors in cold weather including reducing heart rate, increasing metabolism, and increasing caloric burn. Most people do not know that the human body spends more energy attempting to stay warm rather than stay cool when it is hot outside. Still, these are some helpful tips to ensure you are exercising safely this winter!


Running, exercising or even working out in the cold weather exposes you to hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 98.6 degrees resulting in diversion of blood flow from your arms and legs to the core of your body in order to maintain vital organ function. When this occurs while working out, it immediately will result in a drop in exercise performance as normal muscle contraction requires consistent blood flow. Something that is also important to remember is that hypothermia can also occur when it is raining and windy outside. It does not have to only be when it is brutally cold outside. Oftentimes, most athletes are dressed warm enough for working out in cold weather, but on rainy and windy days most people are not always dressed for the conditions and because of this are at a greater risk. The earliest signs of hypothermia include moderate shivering, goosebumps, and presence of numb hands. As it progressed, other symptoms include stumbling, difficulty talking, with progression to confusion and loss of controlled motor function. If these symptoms are left untreated, the results can be fatal. Recognition is the key, live to run another day!


Unfortunately, Frostbite is another common problem that people deal with when working out in the cold weather. The earliest signs of frostbite begin with the body’s natural cold response including very red hands and painful extremity movement. This stage is quickly reversible and indicates that you should head inside soon. Frost-nip occurs when your skin turns white and goes numb, again this stage is reversible and a clue to head inside to get warm. Unfortunately, the final stage occurs when all feeling is lost and skin progresses from a soft white to a hard feel. This stage is not usually reversible and you should seek medical attention quickly if this has occurred. 


Finally, something that can speed up the effect of both frostbite as well as hypothermia is the windchill. This can alter the temperature by sometimes 20 degrees and make it feel a lot colder. Running and working out in the cold naturally produces heat which will keep a person warmer, but this must be supplemented by proper clothing. Remember to bundle up this winter as you work out outside. There are many benefits to working out outside even as the temperature drops, but always remember to use extra caution. Do not hesitate to reach out to any of our ATR clinics across the area for more advice on cold weather exercise. Get Advanced!

Author: John Cichon, PT DPT at ATR Kirkwood.

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