You’ve finally gotten into the habit of taking a daily run outside. But now that winter is here, exercising outside has potential dangers you need to investigate in order to stay safe. Don’t despair -- colder temperatures do affect your heart rate while exercising, but if you follow certain precautions, exercising and running outside during the winter can be a safe and refreshing experience.
Humans are endothermic creatures, meaning we produce most of our own heat through the breakdown of food. Although our temperature is regulated internally, we are still affected by extremely hot or cold temperatures. When your body is exposed to cold temperatures, it takes several measures to conserve heat. Shivering is one of them, as is chattering teeth. Lowering of the heart rate and blood pressure are further steps the body takes in order to conserve heat.
The foremost risk related to heart rate and exercising in the cold is hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body is unable to produce heat at the same rate as it is losing heat, which results in abnormally low internal body temperature. Hypothermia can cause a dramatically slowed heart rate. However, when exposed to cold weather, it’s normal for your heart rate to be slightly slower. When hypothermia starts to set in, your heart rate and breathing will be exceedingly slow compared to its normal rate.
Working out in cold temperatures is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and people with certain health conditions such as asthma or cardiovascular disease. As people age, their ability to sustain a healthy internal body temperature often decreases. The elderly are particularly susceptible to the effects of cold temperatures. People with asthma should also be cautious while exercising in cold temperatures since cold temperatures can constrict the airways, making the intake of air increasingly difficult. Another potential low temperature danger is frostbite. This can be prevented by not exposing skin for long periods of time to extremely cold temperatures.
While there are potential dangers when exercising in cold temperatures, there are many precautions you can take in order to stay safe. The most important of these is to be fully aware of how your body is feeling. Pay particular attention to your heart rate, your breathing and any numbness you experience. Other precautions include wearing layers, covering your hands, feet and ears, and being cautious of any wind chill warnings. Surprisingly enough, fluids and sunscreen are still needed even when exercising in cold weather. People often forget these when working out in cold temperatures. Sunburns happen even in the cold, and dehydration can occur even when you are not feeling thirsty.
Danielle Clark has been a writer since 2009, specializing in environmental and health and fitness topics. She has contributed to magazines and several online publications. Clark holds a Bachelor of Science in ecology and environmental science.