How to

20 April 2016

Conserving Heat and Energy during Cold-Weather Exercise

When it comes to keeping warm in the winter, one rarely references physical activity; rather, the focus is on wearing the correct clothes to stave off the cold. What, then, for those who wish to hike, run, or engage in winter sports?

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As warm blooded mammals, humans can exist in cold climates only with the addition of appropriate, protective clothing. Add in the volatile variable of physical exercise and a cluster of other issues surface. When partaking in physical activities, be prepared for reduced muscle contractions because the rate at which the nervous system sends impulses to the muscles slows down. Blood flow is affected as well, moving slowly to cool areas of the body. Arguably, the important thing to keep in mind when venturing into the wilderness on a hike or run is to properly fuel the body.

Carbohydrates: the only thing that will truly bolster the body when expending energy in the cold.

At low temperatures, carbohydrates are burned at a quicker rate, resulting in fatigue. Paired with the body’s inefficient use of oxygen when in cold temperatures, exercise can become perilous without foresight. Everything requires more energy in cold weather meaning more fuel/food is needed beforehand, and simply maintaining a regular body temperature is that much harder.

For those desiring to hike, a proper pair of hiking boots or shoes meant to keep feet dry is the best bet. Runners should look into specially made cold-weather spikes or trail shoes. Warming up is of the utmost importance as well since muscles require time to animate before being taxed in cold temperatures. Elsewise, risk of injury becomes greater.

So, we come to the cusp of the question of exercising in the cold: is it better to move faster or slower in cold weather? Generally, moving at a pace that is comfortable is the perfect way to keep warm. Regardless of the classification, fast or slow, establishing a steady stride in which the body is operating is enough to maintain the correct body temperature. If armed with the correct cold-weather gear, a good warm up, and the right foods eaten beforehand, a person can have a go outside without being overly concerned about unseasonable weather. 

Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).