Warming Up to Running in the Winter
Nov 29, 2017 02:00PM ● Published by Becca Newell
Unless you’re an avid runner, it can be difficult to find the motivation for outdoor aerobic exercise during the winter. It’s cold, potentially icy, and oftentimes dark—the essential trifecta of unpleasant weather conditions that provokes an understandable reluctance to go for a run. Still, frequent exercise is essential to healthy living and running is a surefire way to obtain weight loss, muscle definition, and general health improvements, like a stronger heart, stimulated immune system, and a reduced risk of diabetes, stroke, and other conditions.
And it’s true—wintertime running is just as safe as running in any other season. There are, however, a few precautions to consider, particular for those new to the activity, according to our local experts: Dr. John Kibby with Kibby Chiropractic Center in Crofton, Dr. Florence Jaffa with the University of Baltimore Washington Medical Center, and Scott Broerman, owner at Fleet Feet Sports in Annapolis.
Dress for the WeatherApparel should be labeled as a technical fabric, high-performance gear, or moisture-wicking, according to Kibby. “You don’t want to wear cotton when you’re out running in the wintertime,” he says. Additionally, a hat and gloves are important, despite their inevitable removal during your run! And if temperatures are really low, Kibby recommends wearing earmuffs.
Take Your PhoneMusic (or a stellar podcast!) might not be a necessity for you on a solo run, but taking your cell phone with you is important for safety reasons, like contacting your partner or a friend—or in severe cases, the emergency services—if you incur a bad injury.
Run with a Friend—or Running GroupWhile it’s obviously safer to run with another person, there’s another advantage to running with a friend or joining a running group. “Oftentimes, it helps you be more consistent with your running when you know that someone is depending on you to be there,” says Kibby.
Your lungs aren’t going to “freeze.” But, cold-induced bronchoconstriction—a temporary narrowing of the airways due to a combination of exercise and cold temperatures—can occur if you’re not dressed appropriately for the conditions, according to Jaffa.
Stretching is just as important. Both Kibby and Jaffa recommend stretching indoors before and after running.
Dynamic Stretching:Also known as an active warm-up, dynamic stretching is performed prior to running and consists of about 10 minutes of controlled movements, like arm circles and leg kicks, and about 10 minutes of light cardio, like jogging.
Static Stretching:Static stretching is performed after running and consists of various poses held for 15 to 30 seconds with little to no movement. While a slight feeling of discomfort or tightness might be experienced, static stretching shouldn’t hurt.
It’s possible to overdress. “It’s important to listen to your body and dress in layers, so that you can easily remove a layer if necessary,” says Jaffa, who recommends three layers of clothing to combat cold temperatures.
The inner layer:The layer in direct contact with the skin should consist of a lightweight polyester or polypropylene material that doesn’t absorb moisture.
The middle layer:The layer that serves as primary insulation should be a polyester fleece or wool fabric.
The outer layer:The layer used for weatherproofing, such as a light jacket that’s wind- and water-resistant.
Drink plenty of water. Though you might not seem as thirsty during the fall and winter seasons, it’s important to stay well hydrated.
You can exercise with a cold. “For the common cold or upper respiratory tract infection, light to moderate exercise is safe. If there are any signs of a more serious condition, such as the flu or pneumonia, which include body aches, fevers, chills, and shortness of breath, exercise is not recommended,” says Jaffa.
Additional Steps for Safety
Appropriate apparel and shoes are imperative, according to Broerman. Opt for shoes with a tighter-knit mesh, which won’t let in as much air or moisture, and consider wool running socks, which keep feet warm and dry, thanks to the material’s moisture-wicking properties. “If your feet are comfortable, the rest will fall in line,” Broerman says, adding that traction aids are also important for running on ice- and snow-covered surfaces. While, slip-on grips can be purchased for shoes, Broerman says Fleet Feet offers a complimentary service when winter weather hits the Annapolis area. “We will install a few wood screws in your shoe and that gives you grip,” he says. “With all the technology that exists in apparel and shoes, there’s just not a reason to stay indoors during the winter.”
Another crucial element of safety is reflective wearables and active lighting. Broerman says the ultimate must-haves for wintertime running are a reflective vest and some type of blinking light—from a standard handheld flashlight to a touch-free headlamp that automatically switches into strobe mode upon sensing an oncoming vehicle. There are even two-in-one wearables, like a reflective wristband with blinking red LEDs, and convenient, travel-friendly products, à la “Safety Skin”—a reflective substance that’s applied directly to the skin.