As Winter rapidly approaches it is important to consider the possible risks of exercising in cold weather. Though there are risks associated with exercising in the cold there are fewer risks to health and performance than exercising in extreme heat.
The body’s core temperature is tightly controlled at 37oC varying by only 1 oC either side. Cold weather conditions can make the maintenance of core body temperature difficult for the body. If core body temperature falls below 35 oC then hypothermia can set in.
For athletes the risks of the cold can vary. If an athlete is exercising in water then heat is lost 3-5 times faster than if exercising in air at the same temperature because water is 25 more time conductive.
Other factors which affect the rate of heat loss include the temperature of the air or water, wind speed, body composition and body size. A wet person on dry land will also lose heat at a quicker rate than a dry one. Therefore the risks of exercising in the cold are greater if it is raining or snowing.
During low intensity exercise such as walking it is likely that the heat generated through the exercise will not be sufficient to counteract the heat that is being lost. It is therefore essential that precautions are taken. In this case the best course of action is to ensure that the body is well insulated by wearing appropriate clothing. At the same time it is important that the body is not over insulated otherwise the body’s core temperature may rise causing negative effects from excessive heat.
Moderate – High Intensity Exercise
During Moderate – high intensity exercises such as running or cycling there is little concern for core temperature due to the heat generated through the exercise. It is only when the air temperature reaches -10 oC that a loss of performance will become a factor.
As previously mentioned the body will lose heat quicker in water and therefore if swimming in water cooler than 26 oC a loss of performance will become evident. This is because the fall in core body temperature intensifies shivering leading to a more rapid depletion of carbohydrate and fat supplies.
No matter how intensive exercise has been all athletes must avoid rapid cooling when they stop exercising. Exercise heat generation will be reduced and body heat will be lost to the environment. Athletes should get out of the cold environment as quickly as possible, remove any wet clothing and add extra layers.
The information provided in this article is for guidance only and should not be used in place of recognised training or guidelines.