Understand, overcome challenges of cold weather workouts

Working out in cold weather puts the human body under tremendous strain. (Reuters Photo)

BEIRUT: Winter might be an excellent time to go out and exercise despite the fact that most people would like to stay in for a hot bowl of coziness. Although your body might play tricks on you in the lower temperatures, what one can do is understand the challenges that the human body faces in the cold so as to overcome them and benefit as much as possible from the season’s outdoor activities. Hydration, hydration,

hydration!Although most people tend to “forget” to drink the body’s necessary amount of water in the winter, it is the most important thermoregulator that exists. People almost never sweat during winter so they don’t feel thirsty much or in need of fluids. When you have the right amount of fluids in your system, you can be sure that when you workout outdoors it will help you maintain a stable body temperature throughout the exercising period and prevent compromising function in your organs and muscles due to lower temperatures.

Boost your immune systemIt is fairly well-known that exercise helps boost immunity. Yet the most probable response you get when you propose working out outdoors during the winter season is that people are afraid to catch a cold – or the flu – due to lower temperatures, but this is not totally true. Staying inside with a group of people – in an effort to stay warm – is what helps viruses to easily spread, and not the cold weather itself.

“People are very confused as to whether or not cold temperatures will cause them to get sick,” says Dr. David C. Nieman, who is a professor of health and exercise science and the director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University.

In a recent study conducted by Neiman, a 1,000-person community trial found that people who were active, lean and ate a lot of fruits (rich in Vitamin C) experienced one-third fewer sick days than people who had lower physical activity levels and were overweight.

Cramping upLeg cramp, or muscle cramps in the calfs, (among other body parts) is a common complaint heard from those who workout in the cold. Taking the appropriate time to warm up to allow the blood supply to pump fairly through all your muscles can help reduce the risk of getting cramped up. A good active stretch will be very helpful as well.

A normal neurological reaction is that your body restricts the blood supply in the extremities (fingers and hands, toes and feet) in order to keep enough blood pumping in what we call “the noble organs”: heart, lungs and brain.

Another reason for cramping up in the cold weather lies within the muscle itself. In muscular physiology, the property in question here is “contractility,” which is “the capability or quality of shrinking or contracting,” according to The Medical Dictionary. It is also a neurological reflex for your muscle to contract faster and/or longer in lower temperatures. It is why we tend to tense up when its cold; our muscles are more “contractile.”

For the two physiological reasons stated above, it is imperatively important to take the appropriate time to warm up and get the blood pumping in those veins to avoid those famous oh-so-painful cramps.

HypothermiaHypothermia occurs when the central body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius – it is well-known that it should normally be 37 degrees Celsius.

Symptoms of hypothermia may include shivering, discoloration in the extremities and tachycardia (a fast heart rate). In some more severe cases hypothermia may be fatal, and if symptoms are not easily controlled with rewarming, one should seek urgent medical attention.

Hypothermia cases are usually seen in participants in extreme outdoor activities, such as night snow hiking or subzero diving, and the condition is frequently aggravated by alcohol use. In most cases, rewarming is manageable with hot drinks, preheated blankets and moderate muscular static contractions.

Joint painComplaints of joint pain increase in the cold weather. People previously diagnosed (or not) with arthritis of many origins (rheumatoid, osteoarthritis, etc.) often keep a diary of their pain, enabling them to pre-empt how their muscles will react in various weather conditions. Although, scientifically speaking, conflicting studies exist regarding the relation of weather changes (temperature, humidity, etc.) to joint pain. But clinically, physicians and physical therapists often face a very common question when it gets colder outside and it goes like this: “I always get this annoying dull pain in my knees when its cold, should I be exercising?” The answer usually goes like: “If the pain is unbearable, it is advised not to workout, to stay warm and to take some over-the-counter painkillers.”





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