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Is Cold-Weather Running Bad For You?

Is running in cold weather dangerous, or is it just a weak excuse?

Today I’m going to try to answer this annoying question. And hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll know how to proceed without fail.

So are you ready?

Then here we go…

Is Cold-Weather Running Bad For You?

Here are the main issues we runners have to deal with during outdoor winter exercising:

1. The Deadly Danger of hypothermia

Hypothermia is an abnormal decrease in body temperature, dropping to dangerous levels. The risks of hypothermia are greater when it’s too cold, windy and/or wet outside.

As a general guideline, expect to encounter hypothermia once your core body temperature dips below 95 degrees F (roughly 35 degrees Celsius).

When this happen, your cardiovascular system, nervous system, and other organs will cease to function properly.

In extreme cases of hypothermia, expert heart trouble, respiratory failure, even death, God forbid. That’s why this condition can be a serious medical emergency.

Prevent It

Cover your Head

To prevent this condition, be sure to cover your head during cold weather running.

Why the head?

Well, it’s because as much as 50 percent of our body heat is lost via the head.

My favorite hat for cold weather running is the Nike Pro Combat Skull Cap. You can get it here for $18.

Wear the Right Clothing

For clothing, go for high-tech, special fabric apparel that can wick sweat away from your skin while keeping your body warm and dry during your outdoor workouts.

Just do your best to steer clear of cotton. Because once it gets wet, it tends to stay so, leading to all sorts of problems.

Wear Several Layers

Wear several light layers of clothing instead of one to two thick layers.

Why layers? The smart way to dress for a cold weather run is to wear multiple layers that are easy to remove because this gives you the chance to calibrate your dress to keep you right in the perfect temperature range by unzipping or removing items as you heat up.

Know the Warning Signs

In the end, the best course of action when it comes to warding off hypothermia while running outside is to keep a keen eye on your body throughout your workout.

For that, here are a few of the early warning signs of the condition:

  • Slurred speech
  • Intense shivering
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Abnormal fast breathing
  • Loss of focus and coordination
  • An abnormal increase in heart rate
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Confusion and/or poor decision making.

In case you are experiencing a couple or more of these symptoms, you have to seek immediate energy help.

And on the first onset of cold-related health problems, stop running on the spot, head indoor and treat your condition accordingly.

2. The Frostbite       

One of the serious health problems from running in the extreme cold is the notorious frostbite.

So what is it?

Frostbite occurs when unprotected body surfaces are in direct contact with the cold air, so it freezes as a response.

The fact is, the risk of a frostbite become a real threat within a half an hour when the air temperature reaches -10 degrees, under mild conditions, according to the National Weather service.

Prevent it

Protect the Weak Spots

Some of the most vulnerable areas to frostbites include the toes, fingers, nose, ears, chin, and cheeks. You have to watch out for these.

Protect your Face

Wear extra protection especially if your ears and nose get so cold that they start to ache.

If wearing a hat or ski mask is a bit too much, then wear, at least, then opt for a piece of gear that shields the ears, like a headband or earmuffs.

Some of the best brands include Thermax or Coolmax.

Sunscreen

Be sure lather it up with sunscreen when you’re planning to run outside, regardless of how cold the temperature is.

Although it’s winter, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need any protection from the sun.

Hands and fingers

To protect your hands and fingers from the freezing cold, wear a thin pair of gloves made from moisture wicking materials, such as polypropylene. Check these awesome lightweight gloves on Amazon.

If it’s really, really, cold, then put on a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with fleece or wool for extra protection, and then remove the outer pair if needed without exposing your bare skin to the icy air.

I personally preferer mittens because they keep my fingers warm during the winter.

I love the Mizuno Mittens. You can get them for $30 by clicking here.

Get the Right Shoes and Socks

To protect your feet and tootsies against frostbite, opt for running shoes that are either waterproof or lined with a material to ward off the feet your feet from the extra moisture.

Wear dry, moisture wicking socks. The best kind is those with made with acrylic or polypropylene. These do the best job of wicking moisture and keep your footsies dry and happy.

My favorite brands include the Drymax Cold Weather Running Socks (Get it here for $15), and the SmartWool PhD Running Socks (Get it here for $16).

The Early Warning Signs

Also, be wary of frostbite warning signs

Some of the early symptoms of frostbite include numbness, loss of feeling and a stinging sensation in the affected area.

If you suspect you may be developing frostbite, then the first thing to do is to head back inside and get out of the cold immediately.

Next, slowly warm the affected area by wrapping in a warm blanket or running under warm water.

Just whatever you do, DO Not rub the affected area—this will only cause skin damage, and you don’t want that.

If the condition persists, seek medical help.

3. The Freezing Lung

According to popular belief, the lungs are going to freeze under subzero temperatures.

But, as a runner, you shouldn’t be worrying about that.

Why?

See, our pulmonary system performs an excellent job of warming air we breathe in.

Sure, the air you take while running in cold weather is quite…cold.  But, it reaches body temperature by the time it gets to the lungs.

As a result, don’t be thaaaaat worried about the cold air damaging your lungs while running in cold weather. It’s not that bad.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s all roses and sunshine. The frigid temperatures can pose a bit of a threat to the airways, causing irritations and achy burning sensations in the throat—especially at minus 30.

Prevent It

Cover Your Mouth & Nose

To ward off burning sensations, airways damage, and runner’s coughs caused by the cold, dry air, try wearing a scarf or balaclava around your nose and mouth while running in the cold.

Doing this is going to help you trap of the moisture that you usually lose as you exhale, as well as reducing many of the breathing problems associated with cold weather exercising.

Try Inhaling through the Nose

In my experience, inhaling in through the nose, and not the mouth, can also reduce the risk of potential breathing problems.

Of course, this depends on how intense you are going to run, your fitness level, and your own personal preference and personal breathing strategy.

I don’t think it’s always possible to get enough air while running by mainly breathing in through the nostrils, but this is a neat trick to keep in mind in case you feel lots of those burning sensations.

What might work for me might not the best course of action for you. No suit fits all.

Experience is what matters most.

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Image Credit – Kasla Via Flickr

4. Slipping and Falling

Another danger that comes with running in the cold is slipping and falling on some ice.

In fact, most of running surfaces can be problematic during the winter time.

The fact is, if you have ever slipped and fallen outdoor on water or ice, then you (painfully) know it can lead to serious pain, even severe injury—if you don’t know how to fall with grace.

I’d almost broken my left knee from slipping on ice a couple of years ago. And I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of broken bones and other serious injuries from “the ice victims.”

This, of course, depends on where you live. Your winter runs might range from slightly bumpy workouts to a war against the slippery surface, rainy roads and paths full of slush and/or snow.

Therefore, if you let outdoor conditions interfere with your runs, you’ll fall short on achieving consistency with your outdoor running training.

That’s why you have to do something about it—if you are serious about standing a chance of keeping your training going strong in in the winter—without any visits to the emergency room of course.

Prevent It

Pay Attention to where you run

The best advice I can give you here to be aware and attentive to the kind of terrain you are running on.

Do the bulk of your running where snow cover is minimal, and steer clear of slippery surfaces.

And please, be super careful on downhill sections.

Run on Good Routes

Make sure to run on well populated, well-lit streets that get significant foot traffic. In most cities, these will be usually often scraped, cleared and salted.

For the most part, if possible, stick to jogging path, and avoid sidewalk or street road that have not been cleared.

Also, for more safety stick to running routes that are close to home in case things turn south.

Get a Pair of Winter Running Shoes

Consider getting a pair of winter waterproof running shoes with plenty of traction and ankle support. These will provide you with better traction (reducing the risks of slipping) on the snow and keep your footsies warm and happy (no more numb toes) during the chaotic winter season.

Some of the best winter running shoes in the market right now include the Brooks Adrenaline ASR 12 GTX (Get it here for $120), and the Nike Air Zoom Structure 19 Flash (Get it here for $120)

Use Anti-slip Grips

To prevent falling and slipping, you might consider wearing running shoes with grips on the bottom for better traction and control while running on slippery surfaces.

You might also consider adding anti-slip (even chains) to the soles of your shoes.

According to my own experience, Yaktrax is a great option. You can find these in most good running stores. Or just purchase them from this link for $30 on Amazon.

Your choice.

They are cheap and can be real neck saver—no pun intended.

5. Skier’s Nose

When it comes to cold weather issues, a running nose, also known as “Skier’s nose” is  a common occurrence—especially among winter outdoor athletes and fitness junkies.

Heck, you are risking a skier nose by just going outside when it’s too cold.

Why?

As you already know, your nose primary functions is to filter, humidify and warm the air you breathe before it reaches the lungs.

But while it does that, during the winter, the nose has to work double-hard to over-moisturize the dry air, forcing the lining of the nostrils to produce additional fluid of a certain chemical while

Prevent It

Wear a Face Mask or Bandana

The best way to deal with a skier’s nose while running in cold weather is to make sure to warm the air and keep it well moisturized before it reaches your nose.

How?

Well, it’s quite simple.

Wear a wool scarf or face mask to reduce sniffing and sneezing.

Use Medication

In the case of serious trouble, be sure to consult with a pulmonary or allergy specialist. They can prescribe a special nasal spray just for your particular case.

You can also use a prescription sprays that hold back this unwanted condition.

Also, some of the over-the-counter allergy meds can help.

In case you got some allergies going there.

To ward off chapping, put on some Vaseline around your nose and mouth.

Also, be sure to carry tissue with you.

When To Avoid Cold Weather Running?

I might sound like a true cold weather running evangelist, but that does not mean that running in the cold is for everyone.

There are instances when it’s better to err on the side of caution. As you already know, prevention is better than cure.

Safety, after all, is what is it all about. You shouldn’t be running if the activity is putting your health, or life, in danger.

If you got any serious health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, asthma, exercise-induced bronchitis, Raynaud’s diseases (a condition that hinders blood flow to certain areas of the body).

So what gives?

Well, the solution is quite simple: Take your runs indoors.

Instead of heading outdoors, hop on a treadmill and run in the safety of the indoors. That’s way better than staying stuck on the sofa for the rest of the day—even if you are not a big treadmill fan.

Conclusion

Well, in my experience, running in winter is just running. It’s neither good nor bad as long as you are healthy and you take the right safety precautions vital for the outdoor conditions and the temperature of the air.

As I have already discussed, most of the troubles you might encounter while running in cold weather are preventable and avoidable—provided that you do what you have to do.

Featured Image Credit – Hernán Piñera Via Flickr

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David Dack

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