When the weather outside is frightful, exercising outdoors can still be delightful.
You just have to plan for it.
“The main dangers of exercising outside in the cold weather are frostbite and hypothermia, stuff like that,” said Jake Dinauer. He is the head athletic trainer and a senior lecturer of exercise and sport science at Carthage College.
At Carthage, he works on training with the college’s football, men’s basketball and baseball teams.
To keep athletes safe during the cold weather months, Dinauer consults guidelines set by the NCAA and the National Trainers Association.
“We have a chart on wind chill and other weather conditions,” he said, adding that “at least in our experience in the last 10 years as trainers, we’ve never had to modify or cancel or change a practice because of cold temperatures. Our coaches already do it before we have to restrict anything.”
Cynthia Allen — the program director for physical education and health at Carthage — has two very good reasons for exercising outside every day, all year.
She’s walking her two Australian shepherds who, she says, “could go for hours no matter the weather. That keeps me going outside. I’m walking all through the winter.”
She emphasizes staying safe by wearing appropriate gear.
“For safety, I always wear a reflective vest and a headlamp. And layering clothing is a must. You have to have a moisture-wicking layer next to skin, then a warmth layer and then on top of that a wind-breaking layer.”
She insists that “most of the time when you get out there, it’s enjoyable, even if it’s cold. The key is having adequate clothing — it’s obvious you need to wear a hat and gloves — and if you have that three-layer system, it’s actually pleasant when you’re outside.”
The risks of cold-weather exercising depend on the activity you’re performing as well as the temperature and other conditions, Dinauer said.
“If you’re standing around watching a practice, it’s different from a runner going 20 miles. Your core body temperature and risk will be different for those different situations.”
He said the trainers at Carthage “do information sessions for all the athletes before the season starts. We tell them ‘if you feel yourself going numb or shivering a lot, let someone know.’”
For the average person who wants to stay active outside during a Wisconsin winter, Dinauer recommends “dressing in layers. The wind chill can be dangerous for bare skin. If it’s extremely cold, modify or cancel your activity. You don’t want to risk getting frostbite.”
“Also, hydration is always important. Even if you don’t feel hot, your body can’t function as well if you’re dehydrated.”
Overall, his biggest piece of advice for winter warriors is “to pay attention to the weather forecast. Don’t get caught by surprise; be prepared. If you’re a runner and you get injured — and you’re alone and not dressed appropriately — it could be dangerous. Exercise with a friend or have help nearby.”