Facing Frigid Temperatures

Everyone seems to be in agreement about what to expect out of this winter: frigid temperatures through February before March takes over with slightly warmer and infinitely wilder weather.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, Georgia is expected to be “wet and very chilly.” These are not ideal conditions for exercising. Most people require a set routine to remain active, a routine often vanquished by frigid temperatures and shorter days.

Research suggests exercise routines are affected by environmental factors, which means you need a plan now.

If you exercise primarily in the gym, the winter elements should not pose a problem. Although Georgia is expected to have a cold, wet winter, road conditions will most likely be fair. The biggest challenge will be getting out of bed and walking through the cold to your car.

Sleep and mood disorder researcher, Alfred Lewy, MD, said darkness spurs the brain to make the “sleep-inducing chemical melatonin.” This increase during the darker months often makes people feel like they are suffering from jetlag. Lewy suggests going to sleep 15 minutes earlier each week over the course of a month. The extra hour of sleep will counteract the increased melatonin and make it easier to get out of bed on time.

The walk to the car is more of a mental and layering game. Change into your active wear and bundle up. Once you are ready, run out the door to the car to either jump in and leave or start your car to heat the inside. Give your car five to 10 minutes to heat up, then climb in and head to the gym.

Outdoor exercise enthusiasts may find it more difficult to maintain a routine as the temperatures steadily decline.

Use the rule of three layers to combat the cold. The first layer should be a thin, synthetic long-sleeved shirt capable of wicking sweat. Follow the thin shirt with an insulation layer by donning fleece or wool. The final layer should be a lightweight water-resistant jacket. A similar formula can be applied for tights and pants. Additional items like thick socks, gloves, and activewear earmuffs may be added for extra warmth.

Once you have your layers in place, warm up in your home for five to 10 minutes. Jogging in place and stretching will allow your body to warm up and better acclimate to the cold temperature. Plus, warm-ups (and cool downs) are vital for muscle health during the cold months when muscles are prone to contract. Contracted muscles are less supple and more prone to injuries.

Adjust your regular routine to fit winter’s parameters. If you enjoy jogging, then map out the route. Determine which spots are likely to ice over when the temperatures drop below freezing. Due to the shorter days, you may need to adjust your route to include more streetlights, run with a friend, or wait until the sun rises.

Maintain a list of short-term and long-term fitness or weight-loss goals. Pushing yourself to reach a goal acts as an internal incentive to leave the warmth of your home and brave the stiff cold. Enlisting a friend or family member to keep you accountable—or even to exercise in tandem—will increase the likelihood that you continue to exercise and reach your goals.

Finally, make sure you have a back-up plan. Sometimes heading outside, whether for a jog or to go to the gym, will seem like too much. Look up 10-, 20-, and 30-minute workouts online; invest in exercise DVDs; or dust off your old machines and weights. Figure out what will work best for you this winter, stay warm, and burn those calories.